Teacher Answer Key
1. There is no federal housing program in Canada. TRUE
In 1993, the federal government ended Canada’s national housing program. This program used to provide funds to each province to build affordable housing. In the 1970s and 1980s, the federal government built a lot of housing, financed a lot of housing and supported socially-mixed housing developments, cooperative housing and other forms of low-cost housing across Canada. During those years, there was very little homelessness across Canada. With the decentralization of federal responsibilities starting in the 1980s and continuing to the present day, the federal government stopped providing housing and let provincial governments take control. We have seen a great increase in homelessness since then. See Teacher Backgrounder (p. 29)
“Canada is one of the few countries in the world without a national housing strategy”
Miloon Kithari, United Nations237
Libby Davies, MP for Vancouver East, has called on the federal government to support a national housing strategy238. Bill C-304239 is currently before the House of Commons. See Teacher Backgrounder (p. 29)
2. Many people who are homeless have a mental illness and/or a drug addiction. TRUE
The homeless have a very high incidence of mental illness. Approximately 33% of homeless people suffer from mental illness; however estimates vary a lot, ranging from 25% to 50%. In some subgroups, the percentage can be higher. For instance, in Toronto in the late 1990s, the prevalence of mental illness among homeless women was 75%.240
The homeless also have a very high incidence of drug addiction. In Metro Vancouver in 2008, approximately 60% of homeless people reported having an addiction. More research about addictions on the street is needed to answer questions such as “are more people becoming homeless because of addictions or do homeless people become addicted once they are homeless?”241 The same is the case for mental illness.
Substantial overlap between drug addiction and mental illness is common, with many people being diagnosed with both severe addiction and mental illness (SAMI).
See Teacher Backgrounder (p. 17, 22, 28, 31, 32)
It is important to note that every condition and illness (including mental illness and drug addiction) found among the homeless is also found among people who are housed. Why aren’t they homeless? Most likely they are not homeless because they have support from family, friends and the community and/or enough wealth to keep them housed. While they are associated with homelessness, and can contribute to and be aggravated by homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness do not cause homelessness on their own. See Teacher Backgrounder (p. 31, 32, 33)
3. A lack of affordable housing is one of the causes of homelessness. TRUE
The main drivers of homelessness are high rents and a low supply of affordable housing, lack of income and a lack of support services. See Teacher Backgrounder (p. 25-33). Activity 4 goes into more detail on these causes of homelessness. Activities 6 and 7 focus on the “Affordable Housing” piece within the following diagram.
A combination of factors contributes to homelessness.
- Lack of income
- High rents and low supply of affordable housing
- Lack of support services for those who need them
4. Many people who are homeless have jobs. TRUE
The working poor: Contrary to popular belief, many homeless people work for an income. In Metro Vancouver in 2008, 19% of the total homeless population (one in five people) and 27% of the sheltered population reported having full-time, part-time or casual employment. Even with an income, they still could not afford to rent a place in the region.242 In Kamloops in 2005, 15% of homeless people had full, part-time or casual employment.243 See Teacher Backgrounder (p. 19 and 28)
In the film, Judy Graves says: “When I began to work with homeless people in the mid-1990s, we found mostly people with severe mental illness and addictions in the street. Now I’m beginning to find people who work in some of the better restaurants in Vancouver living behind dumpsters because they cannot afford to live inside. I’m finding people who hold heavy construction jobs and are building condos that will be occupied by wealthy people living in the streets curled up in doorways at night with their hard hat and their boots under their head as a pillow.”
5. Many people who are homeless would rather live outside than in the housing that’s available to them. TRUE
Emergency shelters are one of the housing options available to people who are homeless and have very little money (not even enough money to rent a room in a single-room occupancy hotel). However, many people prefer not to stay in a shelter and would rather sleep outside.
While emergency shelters provide a necessary service, sometimes they can be unclean and noisy, with strict rules, including restrictions on the length of time a person can stay. Theft can also be common in shelters. Sometimes shelters are full – there are rarely enough shelter beds for the population of people who live on the street. Some shelters turn people away if they are too young for an adult shelter, too old for a youth shelter, if there are no beds available for their gender, or if they are intoxicated or “high”. While low-barrier shelters do exist, they are insufficient for current needs. Some shelters don’t allow pets or shopping carts containing a person’s belongings. Some people are too proud or embarrassed to stay in a shelter, or say there are people who need it more than they do. For people who are with a partner or family, finding shelter where they can stay together can be difficult. Many shelters are co-ed (men and women sleeping in the same room). Some women may not want to sleep in a room with men. Most shelters do not allow couples to stay together. 244
See Teacher Backgrounder (p. 20 and 21)
The proportion of Aboriginal people was higher among the street homeless than the sheltered homeless in the 2008 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count. On the night of the count, 73% of the Aboriginal homeless population did not stay in a shelter, safe house or transition house. This suggests that shelters do not serve the Aboriginal population well. 245 See Teacher Backgrounder (p. 21)
Some people have just enough to pay to rent a room in a single-room occupancy hotel (SRO), the least expensive housing that the market can provide (see Teacher Backgrounder p. 11). These are hotels that rent out short-term or long-term accommodation in single rooms typically without private bathrooms or kitchens246. However, some SROs are poorly maintained and in terrible condition, with insect and rodent infestations, cracks in walls and ceilings, broken utilities, and ongoing illegal activities247, making them substandard, unclean and often unsafe places in which to live248.
“Against the choice of that kind of housing, probably many of us would choose to live outside” Judy Graves.
6. Properly run social housing will not make a difference to the situation of homelessness. FALSE
“If we had properly run social housing, it would be a lot safer for the people down there and I think it would just be a better situation all round” (Sgt Malcolm Cox, Vancouver Police Department). Currently, there is a lack of affordable social housing in BC. Increasing the social housing stock will help reduce homelessness.
7. 2500-3000 people are homeless in Metro Vancouver. TRUE
According to the 2008 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count249, 2660 homeless people were counted on count day in Metro Vancouver in 2008, representing a 137% increase in homelessness from 2002, and a 22% increase from 2005. These are people who live in shelters, transition houses, and safe houses (1086 counted) or on the street (1574 counted). See Teacher Backgrounder (p. 13 and 14). How does 2660 compare to the number of students in your school?
8. Homelessness in Metro Vancouver has increased by over 100% since 2002. TRUE
See above, #7
9. Aboriginal people are over-represented in homelessness. TRUE
It is estimated that 41% of all Aboriginal peoples in BC are at risk of homelessness and 23% are absolutely homeless.250 In Metro Vancouver in 2008, people of Aboriginal ancestry represented about 2% of the region’s census population yet 32% of the region’s homeless population251. In Kamloops in 2005, people of Aboriginal ancestry represented about 5% of the region’s census population, but 39% of the region’s homeless population.252
According to the 2008 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count, between 2005 and 2008, “homelessness within the Aboriginal population grew at a much faster rate (34%) than within the general homeless population (21%). Also, the incidence of street homelessness was higher (73%) among people of Aboriginal ancestry than among the general homeless population (59%). As well, almost half (45%) of the homeless women counted reported Aboriginal identity, while two out of every five (41%) of the unaccompanied homeless youth were of Aboriginal descent.”253 Activity 10 on page 121 addresses some of the issues related to Aboriginal homelessness. See also Teacher Backgrounder (p. 17, 18, 32, 34-40, 42).
10. Housing is not considered a human right by the Government of Canada. TRUE
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not explicitly state that Canadians have a right to a home or to housing or even to shelter. Section 7 of the Charter states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice”. 254 In October 2008, a BC Supreme Court Judge, Madame Justice Carol Ross, used Section 7 of the Charter to strike down a Victoria city bylaw that prohibited a group of homeless people from erecting structures to shelter themselves in a city park. According to Justice Ross, the bylaw was unconstitutional because it contradicted the Charter. This is explored further in Activity 9: Housing as a Human Right, p. 107.
While Canadian domestic law does not include any explicit recognition of the right to adequate housing, Canada has ratified several international human rights instruments (such as the UN Declaration of Human Rights) “that recognize the right to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, creating obligations to take steps for the progressive realization of this right….*However+, the rights contained in international human rights treaties ratified by Canada are not directly enforceable by domestic courts unless they have been incorporated into Canadian law by parliament or provincial legislatures” 255.
Libby Davies, NDP Member of Parliament for Vancouver East, introduced Bill C-559256, An Act to amend the Canadian Rights Act (social condition). “The bill would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act257 to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of social condition. In doing so it would protect from discrimination people who are experiencing social or economic disadvantage, such as adequate housing, homelessness, source of income, occupation, level of education, poverty, or any similar circumstance.”258 The first reading of the Bill was on June 17, 2010.
In April, 2010, Vancouver-Mount Pleasant NDP MLA Jenny Kwan proposed a private member’s bill that “…would amend the BC Human Rights Code to strengthen protections for the homeless. Kwan’s bill, the
Protection of the Homeless Act, would amend the BC Human Rights Code259 to include the term ‘social condition’ as prohibited grounds for discrimination…This bill would bring British Columbia in line with other jurisdictions across the country….Quebec, New Brunswick, and the Northwest Territories have included ‘social condition’ in their human rights legislation.”260
11. Homeless people never find joy in their lives. FALSE
While the lives of homeless people may be difficult and filled with challenges, they are not without joy. In the film, the following individuals refer to joy in their lives: Anne Campbell finds joy in art; Edward Green finds joy
in the sky, the stars and being in the open and not locked inside; the man who cleans the street for the Yaletown Sofa Company finds joy and pride in keeping the street clean.
12. Sometimes homeless people get beaten up by wealthier, middle-class people. TRUE
“People are beaten when they’re in the street. When the bars are let out at 4 o’clock in the morning, middle-class young men come out all full of beer and testosterone, and they look for somebody to be their victim, and they beat them severely.” Judy Graves
“We have seen a man who was going around Vancouver and slashing the throats of homeless people. He was recently convicted and received a 13-year sentence because the judge who heard the case labeled his activities as a hate crime. And as a result of being labeled a hate crime, he received a more serious sentence. So it’s not just Vancouver. There are websites on the internet for ‘bag a bum’ and there are videos that are shown where, yes, young middle-class youth go out and beat homeless people with baseball bats.” Sgt Malcolm Cox
“Sometimes they set them on fire and people will show me burns all over their bodies, scars, from having been set on fire. It’s why you rarely see anyone on the street who has zipped up their sleeping bag, because they need to be able to escape.” Judy Graves
13. There is a solution to homelessness. TRUE
As Judy Graves says in the film, “You simply cannot look at this happening to people without being angry. If there were no solutions, then I would just be sad and it would just break my heart. It’s not rocket science. The solution to homelessness is housing….” Ending homelessness is possible. Also see Teacher Backgrounder p. 44-45.
14. There are things I can do to help end homelessness. TRUE
The following suggestions are given by people interviewed in the film:
Reverend Ric Matthews, First United Church
“Share your resources, deepen your understanding of your circumstance and explore what you have and what you can share or give, even if it’s just information you can share with others.”
“But it goes way beyond that to what really makes a difference. When people say to me what can they do, I say: The price of the ingredients for a cup of soup: 50 cents. Buying the mug in which we put the soup: $1.50. The cost of preparing it and boiling it and serving it: $5.00. Your presence at the table drinking a cup of soup alongside somebody else: priceless. That’s the gift. My challenge to anyone who says I think I really care or I’d like to care is: spend time being here. Not bringing something special. Daring to become vulnerable down here and to know that if you are that, you will be forever changed because when you encounter somebody in need, what you encounter is somebody with tremendous gifts who will make you
far more human than you ever thought was possible. And it will transform you. And in the process it becomes a gift to the others.”
David Eby, Lawyer, Pivot Legal Society (and currently Executive Director, BC Civil Liberties Association)
“On a personal level make a point of correcting myths about homelessness. Intervene and say, ‘Here’s what the real situation is, what it’s like to be homeless, how difficult it is to get out of homelessness and to deal with those issues’”
“Volunteer and spend some time meeting homeless people and getting to know them, because there is nothing more world altering and view altering than to get to personally know someone who is facing the challenges that homeless people face.”
Judy Graves, Housing Advocate and Coordinator, Tenant Assistance Program, City of Vancouver
“Each of us can recognize the individuality of everybody that sits in the streets. Each of us can get to know the name of the homeless person that lives near them and say hi to them every day, which will change everything in their world.”
“It is your responsibility as a citizen of a democracy to go to everyone who is running for office or has been elected into office and let them know that you hold them absolutely accountable for the suffering of every single person that is on the street.”
Karen O’Shannacery, Executive Director, Lookout Emergency Aid Society
“If people say they’re hungry, take them out for a meal. And instead of just buying the meal, maybe sit down with them for 10 minutes and just talk with them about what brought them there.”
“I see people that everybody else has written off, and they blossom. You give them a home, you treat them with a little bit of dignity, a little bit of respect, you have a little bit of humour that goes back and forth, they blossom.”
Jodi Iverson, homeless for 8 years
“How can people help? Basically listen to what we have to say and what we need, and come down and experience what we go through and maybe get a feel of how you felt as a homeless person.”
Mark Townsend, Executive Director, PHS Community Services Society
“We have to decide ‘We’re going to restrict development and we’re going to make sure that this city has areas for low-income people. There’s going to be rent control, there’s going to be real anti-conversion bylaws that basically make it economically unviable to convert.’ And all those kind of market interventions, you have to have them. Places like New York have them. All big cities have to have them. There’s no choice. This city council had a moratorium on office conversions because they saw that as very serious. So you can interfere with the market if you want to, but there has to have that political will to do that. And if you don’t do it, then there’ll be no space left.”
What other ideas do your students have?
237 Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, Miloon Kothari, Addendum, Mission to Canada. United Nations, 2009, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/10session/A.HRC.10.7.Add.3.pdf
238 See http://www.libbydavies.ca/parliament/questionperiod/2010/05/27/libby-calls-government-support-national-housing-strategy.
239 Bill C-304, http://www2.parl.gc.ca/content/hoc/Bills/403/Private/C-304/C-304_2/C-304_2.PDF
240 Taking responsibility for homelessness: An action plan for Toronto, Report of the Mayor’s Homelessness Action Task Force by A. Golden, W. Currie, E. Greaves and J. Latimer, 1999, Toronto.
241 Still on Our Streets: Results of the 2008 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count Commissioned by the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness, www.metrovancouver.org/planning/homelessness/ResourcesPage/HomelessCountReport2008Feb12.pdf
242 Still on Our Streets: Results of the 2008 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count Commissioned by the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness www.metrovancouver.org/planning/homelessness/ResourcesPage/HomelessCountReport2008Feb12.pdf
243 Kamloops Homeless Count, 2005, http://www.city.kamloops.bc.ca/pdfs/homelessness/2006/Phase1-ProjectReport.pdf
244 Still on Our Streets: Results of the 2008 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count Commissioned by the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness www.metrovancouver.org/planning/homelessness/ResourcesPage/HomelessCountReport2008Feb12.pdf
246 Single Room Occupancy Hotels, BC Housing: http://www.bchousing.org/programs/SRO
247 Punish the slumlords, say advocates, Pivot Legal Society, January 15, 2009, www.pivotlegal.org/News/09-01-15–slumlords.html
248 Backgrounder on housing and homelessness by the Carnegie Community Action Project, 2007,
249 Still on Our Streets: Results of the 2008 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count Commissioned by the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness www.metrovancouver.org/planning/homelessness/ResourcesPage/HomelessCountReport2008Feb12.pdf 250 Ibid.
251 Still on Our Streets: Results of the 2008 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count Commissioned by the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness www.metrovancouver.org/planning/homelessness/ResourcesPage/HomelessCountReport2008Feb12.pdf
252 Kamloops Homeless Count, 2005, http://www.city.kamloops.bc.ca/pdfs/homelessness/2006/Phase1-ProjectReport.pdf
253 Executive Summary: Still on Our Streets: Results of the 2008 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count, Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness, Sept, 2008: http://www.metrovancouver.org/planning/homelessness/ResourcesPage/web_2008_Count_Executive_Summary_FINAL_Sept_15.pdf
254 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/charter/1.html
255 Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, Miloon Kothari, Addendum, Mission to Canada. United Nations, 2009, (p. 5) http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/10session/A.HRC.10.7.Add.3.pdf
256 See www.libbydavies.ca and Bill C-599: http://www2.parl.gc.ca/content/hoc/Bills/403/Private/C-559/C-559_1/C-559_1.PDF
257 Canadian Human Rights Act, http://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/H-6/page-2.html#anchorbo-ga:l_I-gb:s_3
258 From the speech by Libby Davies to the Speaker of the House of Commons in her motion to introduce Bill C-599, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (social condition), www.libbydavies.ca
259 BC Human Rights Code, http://www.bclaws.ca/EPLibraries/bclaws_new/document/ID/freeside/00_96210_01
260 NDP Private Member’s Bill would protect homeless, vulnerable, BC NDP, April 14, 2010, http://www.bcndp.ca/newsroom/ndp-private-member%E2%80%99s-bill-would-protect-homeless-vulnerable
Learning About Homelessness in BC, Simon Fraser University, 2010