Home is where the community is: housing as a human right


October 11, 2022 Rabble

In the third episode of the Courage My Friends podcast, Series III, Dania Majid, director of the Tenant Duty Council Program at the Advocacy Center for Tenants Ontario (ACTO); John Ecker, director of Research and Evaluation at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness; and Haydar Shouly, senior manager of Shelters and Shelter Programs with Dixon Hall discuss the current crisis of housing insecurity and homelessness facing our most vulnerable communities.

Ecker describes some of the ingredients of the housing crisis: “In Toronto we’re seeing an emergency shelter system that’s stretched to the limit, which is turning people away because there aren’t enough beds available. ..We’re seeing a significant increase in the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness or homelessness lasting six months or longer in Toronto…About half of people accessing emergency shelters can be defined as chronically homeless. We’re also seeing a burnt out workforce that is leaving the homeless system for other opportunities.

We’re seeing a social housing wait-list that continues to grow due to the lack of housing stock that is being created. Rising rental costs, which is even pushing people out of not just the housing market, but the rental market as well. There’s a lack of rental control measures put in place by the provincial government, allowing landlords to increase rent without that typical government oversight on units that were built after 2018.”

Reflecting on how the pandemic impacted Toronto shelters, Shouly recalls: “So I remember early 2020, probably February, March 2020 when we started to feel the heat of this pandemic. We had 91 people at Heyworth House, a hundred people at 351 Lake Shore. And we were talking about 2 to 3 feet apart. And that was just not feasible anymore. It was a disaster to keep people in that kind of environment. So collectively as a sector, and the city obviously led that, we moved clients from the traditional shelters and respites to hotels. The city secured a number of hotels to create that kind of social distancing that we were talking about in early 2020. It was really difficult. It was complicated to try to make that move. To transport people to a hotel. And trying to use the city’s transport vehicles or taxis… It was a really challenging kind of reality. But with that action, I think we managed to keep the numbers of positive cases low and we managed to create social distancing in those programs. But I think moving people from where they were in congregate settings into more isolated rooms in hotel programs, we actually created new sets of challenges..”

Speaking to the financialization of the housing market, Majid says, “Companies like Blackstone, and they’re definitely not the only one, they do see housing as an investment vehicle, and that’s their primary lens on housing.

So what we’ve seen these types of companies doing is what I call “home hoardership”; they are just accumulating homes just for the sake of accumulating these homes.

It deprives people like first time home-owners and renters from accessing these homes. And it’s driving the cost of the housing up. What we’re seeing in Canada has been happening in the United States for a lot longer and it’s a little bit more terrifying when you start putting the pieces together and it’s technically already here.

About today’s guests:

Dania Majid is a staff lawyer and director of the Tenant Duty Counsel Program at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, a legal aid clinic in Ontario. Prior to joining ACTO, Dania was a legal analyst with the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, and a lawyer with the Human Rights Legal Support Centre and Neighbourhood Legal Services. She is also the founder and executive member of the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association and the Toronto Palestine Film Festival and sits on the steering committee of the Hearing Palestine program at the University of Toronto. Dania is also the lead author of ACLA’s 2022 report “Anti-Palestinian Racism: Naming, Framing and Manifestations.”

John Ecker, PhD is the Director of Research and Evaluation at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. In this role, he has been fortunate to collaborate with a number of community partners on their research and evaluation activities. He attained his Ph.D. in Community Psychology from the University of Ottawa where he received advanced training in qualitative and quantitative analyses, as well as program evaluation theory and practice. His research interests are varied and include homelessness, housing, Housing First, community integration, and LGBTQ2S studies. In his spare time, John is an avid tennis player/fan and has a love of pop culture.

Haydar Shouly, is Senior Manager of Shelters and Shelter Programs with Dixon Hall in Toronto. Haydar spent more than 18 years in the Community Development, Housing & Homelessness sector with stints in Youth Homelessness Supports, Housing Advocacy, Food Security and Newcomer Settlement sectors. Most recently, he has been working and advocating to enhance the well-being of marginalized and vulnerable populations in our community. In the past 14 years, Haydar’s work at Dixon Hall has been focussed on building strategic responses to homelessness in the City of Toronto, primarily in partnership with the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) Division.

Transcript of this episode can be accessed at georgebrown.ca/TommyDouglasInstitute or here.

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