Changing Times – September 2020

Safe, Secure and Affordable Housing Is a Human Right

Does Poverty in Canada Have a Colour?

Recent editions of Changing Times have focused on the theme of the housing and homelessness campaign that our national council’s special committee continues prepare: Safe, Secure and Affordable Housing Is a Human Right.

The action plan draft has been distributed across Canada, and we welcome your comments, suggestions and recommendations. The final draft goes to our national board of directors this fall for final approval, with the anticipated launch of the campaign early in 2021 if Covid-19 is under control. If you did not receive a copy, please let us know at

Interesting how various communities are finding at least temporary housing for the homeless during this pandemic. While this makes us wonder why it takes this kind of crisis to address homelessness, it should also prompt us to advocate for continuing these immediate actions as longer-term solutions to homelessness. The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) launched a Covid-19 recovery campaign in May that in fact maintains support for such solutions. The campaign has also hosted several excellent webinars, and the CAEH website provides useful resources ( that I recommend to our membership. The CAEH also proposes a six-point recovery plan for governments to implement.

With poverty being a prime factor in homelessness and with the issue of systemic racism rising to the surface in Canada and on the global stage, we should also recognize the direct relationship between racism and poverty. As an extension of this issue, systemic racism and housing/homelessness are also closely aligned in many cases. What Canadian city of 30,000 or more residents does not have an area considered lower-class housing or located near an industrial zone? In many instances, these areas are where racialized groups live. How does this happen? By chance, by zoning, by city mapping? Many factors come into play; that said, non-racialized people surely live there too.

As we look at statistics on shelter use, a clearly higher percentage of racialized residents rely on shelters. First Nations people also have many needs due to inadequate or sub-standard housing. In 2011, a federal evaluation of First Nations housing found that 41.5% of on-reserve dwellings required major renovations, compared with only 7% of non-indigenous houses. What’s more, the opportunity for true home ownership on First Nations land is limited. Homelessness numbers are much higher among racialized groups, and many factors contribute to these disproportionate numbers, which can only lead to asking if systemic racism is among them.

What can we as an organization and as individuals do about systemic racism? Any solution must include education, including listening to and learning from racialized groups themselves. How do we accomplish this? Can we strive to recruit new members from racialized groups? Can we invite them to speak at SSVP meetings about the challenges and barriers they have faced and are still facing in finding adequate housing? Can we collaborate with other faith communities and community groups to address systemic racism? Can we call on government leaders at all levels to take decisive action? Perhaps we start with our own faith and Vincentian charism and use these as the base for all discussions, decisions and actions. Let us create a Vincentian Diversity Alliance that focuses on systemic racism and its ties to housing and homelessness.

Please join our housing campaign as it evolves over the coming months and years. There is likely no better way to stem poverty and racism than to help solve the problem of homelessness and inadequate housing. Families need a home in which they can grow, enjoy life and participate fully in Canadian society.

Finally, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul can play an important role in advancing the cause of safe, affordable housing in Canada. While we are not likely to take part in the actual construction of housing, we can be a strong advocate; plus, by crafting a comprehensive plan that includes education, resource information and collaborative efforts with other services and organizations, we can make a real impact. A key to success here is the level of involvement of our conferences, and for that involvement to peak, our leadership must demonstrate their full support. Together, we truly can make a difference.

Jim Paddon, Chair
National Social Justice Committee