Making homelessness history: showing what universities can do

The federal government estimates that there are as many as 300,000 homeless Canadians across the nation every night. But even official statistics regularly underestimate social problems.

The homeless face a complex mix of challenges. Poverty, crime, disease, addiction and mental health problems all can act as mutually reinforcing obstacles that exact a terrible human price.

The cost to society is unacceptably high as well. Research shows that it is seven times more expensive to provide public services to the homeless to address these challenges than to actually provide them with good housing and appropriate services in the first place.

We are a wealthy nation. Canada ranks fourth on the UN Human Development Index among all countries. One homeless person is too many.

Universities can play an important role in making homelessness history. However, they must use all their channels and tools if they are to make a difference.

This is beginning to happen at Carleton. Consider the following:

Led by Manager Joe Lipsett, the Student Experience Office is taking the lead in Carleton University’s participation in Project Homeless Connect, a partnership with the University of Ottawa, Algonquin College, La Cité collégiale, Saint Paul University, the United Way and local shelters to mobilize staff, students and faculty to provide goods and services in support of the homeless in Ottawa, culminating in a day of service on May 14;

Professors Fran Klodawsky (Geography) and Josh Greenberg (Communication) continue their grassroots panel research on experiencing homelessness in Ottawa, in conjunction with colleagues at the University of Ottawa and the Alliance to End Homelessness, a non-profit umbrella group. They recommend renewed policy action by the governments of Ontario and Canada to address homelessness;

Professors Katherine Graham and Tessa Hebb (both from Public Policy) are working with the United Way’s Leadership Table on Homelessness and the Community Foundation of Ottawa, the Ottawa Community Loan Fund, local non-profits and finance specialists to design a new “social real estate” fund to buy and develop property to increase the stock of affordable housing in Ottawa;

In March 2010, undergraduate students in the Sprott School of Business lived outside for five days to raise awareness and funds for youth homelessness in Ottawa;

The Student Experience Office also led the 2010 edition of Carleton’s Alternative Spring Break, a community service learning initiative which took place in Mobile, Alabama, the Florida Everglades and Ottawa, working with organizations that provide affordable housing and other social services;

Advisers to the 2010 Alternative Spring Break cohort, professors Sheryl Boyle (Architecture) and Stephen Fai (Architecture) continue their research on sustainable and affordable housing design for urban and rural communities;

Professor Frances Abele (Public Policy), PhD student Nick Falvo (Public Policy) and other student researchers are studying the causes, experience and solutions of homelessness in Yellowknife, N.W.T., as part of a broader investigation into the social economy of northern Canada;

Professor Emeritus Fraser Taylor (Geography) and PhD student Tracey Lauriault (Geography) in the Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre have worked with other researchers and municipalities across the country to produce the first pilot atlas on the risk of homelessness in Canada;

Carleton University’s investments include bonds issued by the federal Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which are used, in part, to finance affordable housing projects across Canada.

All of these examples add up to a contribution of which we can be proud.

Nonetheless, our university can do more and so can other post-secondary institutions. Ultimately, access to decent housing is a human right, not a privilege.

Across the university and college sector, we need to raise our collective voice and tell, not ask, our governments to solve this problem.

Canada must do better.

This entry was written by Ted Jackson and posted in the issue. Tags applied to this article are: . Leave a comment, bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media:

By Ted Jackson

Ted Jackson is a faculty member in the School of Public Policy and Administration at Carleton University.

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