Sun. Oct 17th, 2021

In the ByWard market, there seems to be a constant jumble of empathy for those without housing. At times, there are calls for support. In others, there are calls for criminalization.

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“I grew up in The Golden Triangle. I played in your playgrounds, went to your schools, ate at your restaurants. My family was part of the community. I was part of the community. Neighbors passed by and smiled. I was 13 when things changed. Not overnight. For a while, I did not look different enough. In fact, I would be met with concern instead. People stopped outside the Shepherds of Good Hope and asked if I was ok or lost. I was still your neighbor back then. ”

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This is just one of the experiences of our team of homelessness experts. Our job as people who have experienced homelessness is to provide critical insight into how to make systemic changes. In honor of World Homeless Day on October 10, we ask you to think about how you view the people in your community who are experiencing homelessness. Know that they are your neighbors who deserve kindness, dignity, care and a home.

Homelessness is often referred to as a problem at ByWard Market, where the last census showed that 646 households live on a low income, but there are only 360 affordable housing. We need inclusive, neighbor-friendly approaches to effectively deal with the growing number of people living on the streets. It’s time to stop playing the blame game and start focusing on prevention and solutions to ending homelessness.

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In a part of the city that has one of the highest core needs, there seems to be a constant fierce empathy for homeless neighbors. At times, there are calls for support. In others, there are calls for criminalization.

When will your neighbor become your neighborhood problem?

It’s time to stop playing the blame game and start focusing on prevention and solutions to ending homelessness.

Did you know that children and young people account for 20 percent of the people across the country who have no place to call home? Or that despite being only 2.5 percent of Ottawa’s population, an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the people who experience homelessness in the city are natives? Over-representation of homeless populations is not a sign of a person’s failure; it is a sign of the failure of the system – the mistakes of our governments, our policies and our society.

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While some groups are overrepresented, all can become homeless. Even before the pandemic, more than 50 percent of Canadians lived paycheck to paycheck. People are often just a paycheck away from finding themselves without a place to live.

Blaming individuals in crisis and shelters and services that help them only makes it harder to reach people who need support. Neighbors who advise against services in their area or complain that people are waiting outside for drop-ins to open are just some of the small ways we reduce access to services for people in crisis, rather than looking for ways to strengthen the system as a whole.

Shelters and other outreach services play a central role in helping our neighbors while staying connected to the community. But we must shift our perspective from homelessness as just their “problem”. People experiencing homelessness are not a problem to be “cleaned up”. The fact that people are experiencing homelessness is a sign that we are not doing the best we can for our society.

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It does not have to be this way. Permanent affordable housing is the healthiest and most cost-effective long-term solution to dramatically reduce and truly prevent homelessness. We can build our communities better. We can embrace our neighbors at all stages of their lives. We can ask for expanded services in our neighborhoods when we see a growing need. We can smile and say good morning to our neighbors, no matter where they live. We can stop asking our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness to get out of our streets or leave our communities. We can instead ask that they have access to the basic human rights of a home in their neighborhood.

Benita Arora and Sophia Kelly-Langer write on behalf of the Expert Steering Team at the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa. Alliance to Stop Homelessness Ottawa is a member-driven coalition of agencies and individuals working to prevent, reduce, and end homelessness in our city. @OttawaAlliance, endhomelessnessottawa.ca

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