The Housing Again Bulletin, sponsored by Raising the Roof as a partner in Housing Again.
A monthly electronic bulletin highlighting what people are doing to put housing back on the public agenda across Canada and around the world, sponsored by Raising the Roof as part of the Housing Again partnership.
News for April, 2004
Community Spotlight: Older Women Speak Out about Housing in Fort McMurray
Fort McMurray, Alberta
When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple; With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me; And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves….”
-from the poem Warning by Jenny Joseph
When Maggie Dutton decided to start a chapter of the Red Hat Society in Fort McMurray, Alberta, it was for pure fun. But the more she got to thinking, the more she realized Red Hats could be a powerful affordable housing ally.
The Red Hat Society brings together women over the age of 50 and has more than 20,000 chapters across North America. While the chapter in Fort McMurray is new, Dutton says she knows of 12 chapters in Calgary.
Dutton’s group meets weekly for coffee and to make and decorate red hats. It was there that she had the idea to raise money for housing by selling red hats. Her vision though is a sea of red hats on parliament hill telling Paul Martin that women want a National Housing Plan.
“We can’t get our kids out the door because we can’t find a place for them to live. Even if our kids don’t live with us, how often are we helping out financially or helping them move because there are just not enough places out there?” says Dutton. “And, many of us will soon be on limited old age security and even that is under threat. We often end up single and unlike our parents some of us have not gotten through with additional investments intact.”
Although the Red Had Society doesn’t officially sanction Dutton’s idea, she is confident that she can form a separate Red Hat Fellowship and build a network of red-hatted women who speak out about housing. Locally, the group’s goal is to raise money for an affordable co-housing project in Fort McMurray.
Eva’s Youth Shelters Create a Holistic Approach to Service Delivery
When asked about Eva’s Initiatives, the youth shelter program that helped her to find a job and start dreaming about her future, Michelle Quintal talks about a place where she could feel grounded.
“It wasn’t like: ‘OK brush your teeth, make sure your hair is clean, here is some food and check-out is at 4:30,’” explains Quintal. “At Eva’s, they asked me what I was going to do in nine months. There are people who give a damn for a bit. You need that when you are young. You have such a greater chance when someone gives you a break.”
Quintal left home when she was 16 years old, living on the income she could make from part-time work in bars and restaurants. An employment counselor referred her to Eva’s Phoenix, a 50-unit transitional housing and training facility.
The Eva’s Phoenix employment program starts with a three-week life-skills training course. Quintal was paid to attend sessions on anger management, conflict resolution, resume writing, budget management, how to cope with stress and other topics geared to help her to manage a career. When she reflects back on her experience, the life-skills training is still her favourite part of the overall program.
“If you leave home or you don’t have a lot of adults around you when you are growing up, there is a lot that you just don’t learn.” says Quintal.
After the life-skills training came a 16-week job placement funded by Human Resources Development Canada. During her research for the placement, Quintal became interested in events planning. Her job developer realized this skill was needed at Eva’s and Quintal was offered a four-month placement to organize Eva’s annual ‘Light up a Life’ Christmas Campaign.
The fund-raiser was a success and led to a permanent offer of employment in her current position as admin assistant for Eva’s National Initiatives.
Eva’s National Initiatives is geared to sharing the tools and expertise that the staff at Eva’s have honed over time. Jennifer Morris, director of Eva’s National Initiatives is actively reaching out to other groups and is ready to share tools such as Eva’s life skills curriculum and employer handbook. She is also working on a toolkit to assist groups across Canada to develop integrated models of service delivery for homeless and at-risk youth.
Quintal says her time at Eva’s has not only given her a ‘killer’ resume but also given her a more global perspective because Eva’s focuses not only on service delivery but also on political action and on finding and getting to the roots of youth homelessness.
Groups interested in tools to support homeless youth in finding employment can contact Jennifer Morris at .
Update on Tuberculosis Inquest
Front-line workers attending an inquest into three tuberculosis-related deaths of homeless men in Toronto are predicting a ‘racous day in court’ when the city’s public health witness takes the stand on April 5th. They are planning a noon-hour meal and press conference at the inquest location.
They expect the witness will be asked to describe the chronology of the tuberculosis outbreak that infected 15 homeless men, which began in February 2001. Front-line workers did not learn about the problem until November 2001, and by that time people had begun to die.
Concerns about tuberculosis among Toronto’s homeless population first arose in 1993. In 1996, a pilot project was initiated. The report from the project warned of a future outbreak in the homeless population and detailed strategies for prevention, identification and treatment. Some, not all, of the strategies were implemented. Since 1996, reports have called for a systemic and co-ordinated approach from the different levels of government to prevent a TB epidemic among homeless people.
While the inquest jury seems to understand the need for recommendations such as an improved disease tracking system, an improved public health infrastructure and reduced crowding in shelters, TBAG is agitating for an emergency rent supplement program to remove people who are especially vulnerable from the shelter system -- such as the elderly and people who are HIV positive or those who have cancer.
The Ontario Liberals, now in government, campaigned on a rent supplement program promise and Toronto’s new mayor has promised action in this area as well.
TBAG expects the inquest to wrap up at the end of April. In the meantime, tuberculosis has not disappeared. Since the inquest started, two more cases have been discovered in the men’s shelter system.
Housing Gets a Mention but No New Money in Federal Budget
Federal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale mentioned affordable housing in his budget speech on March 23 but the bottom line is that there is no new money for housing.
“We will … push forward with our $1-billion fund for affordable housing. Only about half of it is invested to date, and we want to put it all to work quickly—even while we plan with our partners for the next tranche of housing investment.”
While this is optimistic, housing advocates were expecting the government to announce more funding for affordable housing.
“What they did with the budget is they re-announced the billion that has been announced several times,” said Sharon Chisholm, executive director of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA).
Chisholm says she thinks the federal government has been pushing for affordable housing for a long time, with Martin sending former minister Steve Mahoney across the country to push the provinces to commit to a program. But despite the effort, the government just isn’t getting results.
“We are starting to think that the vehicle they are using for delivery isn’t very efficient. Aside from a few key provinces who have been applying the funding, we are just not seeing the units rolling out and they were supposed to be completely finished by next year.”
While the additional funding for municipalities is good news, Chisholm says that the municipalities have many areas that urgently need money so advocates are looking for an independent program to address housing needs.
Conference on Green Affordable Housing Coming up in June
Energy and water conservation, renewable, non-toxic materials and natural landscaping don’t have to cost significantly more than conventional building materials and methods. And, over the long term, these environmentally friendly projects save thousands in operating costs.
Toronto’s Parkdale/Liberty Economic Development Corporation and Parkdale United Church Foundation have partnered to build a new green affordable housing development in the west end of the city. To highlight this project and create some excitement around the issue, the Development Corporation will also be hosting a conference on June 23.
The agenda includes case studies from Canada and the U.S., and workshops on all aspects of green housing including retrofits on existing units, energy and water conservation, landscaping, green materials, design and planning for new projects. The plenary will look at ways to fund green affordable housing projects.
For more information e-mail .
For The Bulletin’s story on how affordable housing developers can go green, click and scrolll down the home page to the Housing Again Bulletin box and click 'View Bulletin Archive.' See story #2 in Bulletin #69.