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Why does everything take 11 years?

This week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a National Housing Strategy. This is something Canadians have been anticipating for a few years now.

The Liberal government promised to spend $11.2 billion over the next 11 years on housing, something they say will reduce chronic homelessness by 50 per cent. The Prime Minister also pledged to use a portion of the national co-investment fund to repair Canada’s social stock. It is unclear how much funding that would equal. Other aspects of the strategy include:

  • $15.9 billion for a national co-investment fund that will build an estimated 60,000 new units and repair 240,000 others. At least 2,400 units will go to people with developmental disabilities, 12,000 units for seniors, and 7,000 for survivors of family violence.
  • $2 billion for a new Canada Housing Benefit for low-income families and individuals.
  • $2.2 billion to expand homelessness partnering strategy.
  • $4.3 billion for a Canada Community Housing Initiative partnered with provinces
  • At least 25 per cent of investments will support projects that target needs of women and girls
  • And, legislation that would require future federal governments to maintain a national housing strategy.

Now, don’t get me wrong — it’s great the government has finally created a national strategy for housing. With the cost of homes ballooning and the incredibly long wait-lists for social housing; and the city of Toronto declaring a state of emergency with the number of shelter beds available in the winter, it’s the perfect time for this housing strategy to be released.

But, why is it that every single promising investment the Canadian government makes comes with an 11-year timeline? It doesn’t matter whether the issue is transit, infrastructure, or housing, it’s always 11 years. There is probably a budgetary reason for this timeline, but for those who aren’t privy to that information, it comes across as a bit slow. Shelter beds and affordable housing is needed now, not 11 years from now. In 11 years, the people who need the housing will either a) have found a way to get themselves and their family into a housing unit, b) have come to terms with homelessness or c) have died from cold exposure after living on the street or illness from a poorly kept or cockroach-infested building. 

A few hundred protestors from big cities across Canada made this exact point this week, saying the national strategy should commit to making some changes in two years time, so that those struggling right now are helped by this strategy. They say housing is needed now to curb the crisis and get people off the street.

Yes, the government should be looking to the future. If they don’t, there will never be any progress. But, when it comes to the livelihood of its citizens — Canada can act a little faster.

Affordable housing to recieve billions in federal budget

The federal budget is taking affordable housing seriously, with a new National Housing Strategy that wants to tackle Canada’s housing crisis.

The 2017 budget proposes to spend $11.2 billion over 11 years and will build safe and affordable housing across the country. In cities with high prices and a severe lack of affordable housing, like Toronto and Vancouver, this funding cannot come soon enough. The government’s proposed housing fund will be run by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) — the country’s public insurance program for mortgages. The CMHC will receive $5 billion over 11 years to work on several projects related to housing. Another $3.2 billion will be dedicated to affordable housing specifically and will use a multilateral investment framework, relying on private and public funding to get affordable housing projects up and running across the country.

Out of the $11.2 billion, $3 billion will be spent in the next three years and $20 million for this year.

The money budgeted falls short of what the big city mayors caucus asked for at their meeting in late 2016. They asked for a pledge of $12.6 billion, spread over eight years to solve the affordable housing crisis that are growing in Canada’s largest cities. Toronto specifically has $2.6 billion in repairs needed for Toronto Community Housing units on the brink of being closed down.

Mayor John Tory is asking that the province pitch in to the housing fund as well and fill the gap that the federal government cannot commit to. Affordable housing in Toronto needs a huge investment to repair current community housing units as well as provide more. There are 82,414 households on the waitlist in the city, most consisting of families and seniors, and with rising house costs people are desperate for somewhere to live.

All three levels of government ultimately need to work together to tackle the affordable housing crises popping up across Canada. The National Housing Strategy is a brave step and the commitment of billions of dollars will make headway to giving vulnerable parts of the population somewhere safe and healthy to live. Without a home, it is nearly impossible to escape the throes of poverty — finally it seems that Canada is realizing the importance of shelter in the Great White North. Let’s hope that investment is maintained!

Celebrating Women: Chynna Howard

Chynna Howard is a defining example of what is possible when courage and selflessness are the primary qualities of a person’s make-up. This millennial woman is going to change lives with her accomplishments, and has already made an integral space for herself in Edmonton’s affordable housing community.

Howard, 27, is tackling the housing crisis head on through the founding of ‘Jill’s Place’, a rooming house located in Edmonton that she named after her mom. The rooming house will help homeless women that are in desperate need of housing in the city’s core, and is set to open in January 2017. While most people feel powerless to change the homeless crisis in Canada, Howard’s absolute selflessness is nothing short of mouth-dropping.

Howard started working in housing as a social worker at the Bissell Centre, a non-profit that provides a variety of services for the homeless, working for the outreach housing team in Edmonton. She began to notice a gap for women looking for housing in inner-city Edmonton and decided to tackle the issue herself. “The waitlists for housing are ridiculous. I was finding that these women didn’t have enough money and couldn’t find housing just for women,” Howard says. “They didn’t fit under the ‘domestic’ umbrella and didn’t want to be in a shelter. There was a lot of discrimination finding a roommate due to being aboriginal and homeless.”

Jill’s Place will provide a clean and safe home to women who are homeless in downtown Edmonton, and will help marginalized women with a place to live. Howard plans on using her skills as a social worker to help women in the home meet basic needs such as meal planning and groceries. She is also considering starting a crowdfunding campaign to help fund a welcome package for each woman that would include a towel, and other products. “I’m trying to benefit inner city women by providing safe and clean rooms. I know it is a really tough work, we need to provide clean and safe rooming homes,” Howard says. “I can fill out a rent report for them [the women who need help with rent living in the house] and take it to Alberta Works. For the most part, it will be a home. There will be a resource room with internet and a phone.”

Howard also decided to purchase the rooming house as a way to honour her dad’s memory, a high school teacher from Kelowna who passed away from cancer in 2014. “When he passed away, I was left money from his pension. I thought this would be the perfect way to use and honour that. It never felt like my money so I’m glad I found a way to honour it. I use everything he taught me to make this community better,” Howard says. “I wanted to make sure my dad’s legacy is carried on. People wonder how I’m able to financially do this. I’d give it back if I had him, but it isn’t that way so I will do this.”

In honour of her dad’s memory, Howard began the annual Clyde Howard Memorial Bursary intended for a female student in the Okanagan area entering post-secondary education.

Howard’s portrait of her father, Clyde.

Howard also happens to be a great artist and hopes to integrate an art studio into the rooming house for the women to use. “ I really like making art that has a message and makes you think,” Howard says. “I want to start making art that reflects this community. They also have an art walk in Edmonton and the women could show their work.”

Shadow Puppets and a Rogue Imagination. Artwork by Chynna Howard.

Howard is also an avid reader. She is currently reading “Starlight Tour” by Susanne Reber and Robert Renaud, the story of Neil Stonechild and the ‘Starlight Tours’ in Saskatoon. Howard claims it is a must-read for all Canadians. She enjoys listening to Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald in the midst of a busy life.

When I met Howard, I had this feeling that she was one of those beautiful people that seem to be put on the planet to make it a better place. I had once heard the term ‘indigo child’ used to explain people who have an almost ethereal power to rid our society temporarily of its ugliness, and leave it with just a little more beauty. That is most definitely Chynna Howard and the future success of ‘Jill’s Place’ will surely help many women in need.

Meeting Mr. Williams

Last November, I had the pleasure of visiting Atlanta for a tradeshow my company was exhibiting in. It’s been a long time since I had been there, and much had changed. I was impressed with its parks and buildings, its air of confidence, and the friendliness of its people. When it comes right down to it though, great cities are made by the people that live there.

I met Mr. Williams shortly after I parked my car. I had a lot on my mind – I had to get registered, find my booth, and figure out a way to tote all my stuff there, and all in less than an hour. Mr. Williams started the conversation. “Excuse me sir. It was really cold last night, and I’m hungry. I was wondering if you could help me out.”

It was hard to guess his age – he could have been forty, he could’ve been sixty. The only thing that seemed obvious, from his appearance and his manner, was that he has lived this way for many years.

I am not shocked or surprised when this happens, because it’s a fact of life in our society, especially in the larger cities. I have spent some time in various community organizations that focus on the issue of homelessness. Through this, and the wise insights of some really dedicated people, I have gained a sense for some of the reasons a person might end up on the street. It’s not as easy as “drugs”, or “alcohol”, or “laziness”, or even “choices”. For many, it’s a mental or emotional health issue. For others, it was a matter of having no choice; home was not a safe place. And for others, likely Mr. Williams, it’s a trans-generational issue; their grandparents were jobless and largely homeless, their parents were born into that state, and then they were too. It’s hard to break the cycle, and safety nets alone won’t fix it.

I usually keep a few loose bills in my pocket, but the moment I heard his polite petition, I knew I was caught in an awkward state; I only had Canadian money in my pocket, and a couple $20 US bills in my wallet safely tucked in my inside jacket pocket. I answered as kindly as I could; “all I have is a few Canadian dollars, if you want them, you can have them.” I lied. He started walking away. But then he turned and came back, and as if he didn’t hear or understand my explanation (or perhaps he didn’t believe it), he asked again, “please sir, can you help me?” I knew what the answer was – it was ‘yes’, of course I could help him. The real question to me was would I help him, or would I lie again? At the same moment, another business traveller a couple of parking spaces away yelled out, “hey! Quit bothering those people. Why don’t you get a job!”

In that moment, I realized I can be part of the continuing broken paradigm, where the beggars beg and the rest of us don’t have the energy to really understand, or I could slow down for a moment and see him as an individual, not all that different from me. “What’s your name?” I said, I as began the process of fishing out my wallet. “Mr. Williams”, he answered. “Mr. Williams” I said, “I’m sorry I lied.” I gave him twenty bucks, and then continued to load marketing material and a computer screen on a dolly I brought with me. He asked to help, but I told him I had it covered. He insisted, nearly begging me to accept his help. I was worried about the screen falling off the dolly, and said I’d prefer to do it myself. I hope he understood, but I realized afterward that my accepting his help would’ve been a bigger blessing to him than the money I gave him.

We, the manufacturers, the entrepreneurs, the business leaders and the workers – we are the true wealth generators of our society. It’s not Wall Street or Bay Street, or the government, it’s us. We also are the beginning of the solution – not the whole solution, but the start. We can’t cure society’s problems with our money, no matter how much we might make or give away. Where we need to be more generous however, is with our time, our caring, and our understanding. Mr. Williams might have been asking for a few dollars, but what he really needed was to matter to someone – in that morning, me. I don’t know what needs to be done to change his life, but I think spending a bit of time with him may have changed his day a bit – and who knows what happens from there. (I do know it changed my day – and who knows what happens from there.) Changes are needed in our society, but I think it starts with us, at a more personal level.

Thank you, Mr. Williams. I hope you are doing well.

Paul Hogendoorn is cofounder of FreePoint Technologies. “Measure. Analyze. Share.” (Don’t forget to share!) He can be reached at paulh@getfreepoint.com  or www.getfreepoint.com