Solving Homelessness: “It just makes sense”
By Stephanie Gauthier
“It just makes sense.” That’s how Tim Richter summarizes his call to end homelessness.
Tim is the Founder, President and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH). He spends his days developing solutions to homelessness with communities across Canada, including Kelowna. Tim is a national leader in the effort to end homelessness and, for him, the path to solving homelessness lies through the Housing First approach.
“Housing First is truth in advertising,” Tim says. “It’s saying ‘let’s move someone directly from the street or a shelter into a home, with no preconditions.’ This approach is more humane, and it’s also more effective.”
Under the Housing First approach, stable housing is the first step in the journey away from homelessness, not the last. Health, substance use, mental health and other issues are addressed from that solid foundation of housing. That’s one thing that makes Housing First effective. Another is the fundamental recognition of humanity that’s built into the approach.
“This is a model that puts people back in the driver’s seat of their own lives,” Tim says. “People need to be empowered to choose the direction of their lives. As long as we’re pathologizing people, looking at what’s wrong with them and what needs to be fixed, we’re never going to solve the problem.”
This is where stigma becomes a barrier, because it leads us to the opposite view. “Stigma is about othering people,” Tim says. “It’s about treating people as different or flawed, and looking at homelessness as though it’s that person’s fault and not a systemic issue.”
Stigma encourages us to doubt an individual’s abilities and to limit their freedom and independence, rather than providing opportunities for them to take control of their lives. Solving homelessness takes a leap of faith, a willingness to see the possibility in someone despite their current circumstances.
“You can’t lose faith in the end of the story,” Tim says. “Homelessness will end, but between now and then we do have to face the brutal reality of everyday life.”
Ending homelessness is a daunting undertaking. Tim has no illusions about that, but he stays positive by focusing on the thousands of little successes that happen every day. Moncton, New Brunswick has reduced chronic homelessness by 10 percent, for example. Other communities have ended veteran homelessness and Tim adds that 10,000 people experiencing homelessness have been housed by Built for Zero communities in Canada since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Built for Zero is a national change effort helping a core group of leading communities end chronic and veteran homelessness. Kelowna is one of those communities
“You have to see the hope and the possibility in a person,” he says. He also argues that you need to trust the evidence.
“There are two main arguments for ending homelessness,” he says. “The first is the moral argument and it says no one in Canada should die for the lack of a home, that no one should suffer needlessly. The other argument is a practical one. We’ve proven time and time again that it’s cheaper to give a person a home than it is to have them bouncing aimlessly through expensive public systems, like jail, hospitals, the police, the courts, and meanwhile they just keep getting sicker.”
The Homeless Hub estimates homelessness costs the Canadian economy $7 billion per year and calls for relatively modest spending increases to address the issue. And, the 7 Cities initiative in Alberta, which housed 23,000 people between 2008 and 2018, saved an estimated $2.4 billion in provincial expenditures.
So, Tim’s right. Solving homelessness makes sense. We have an approach that’s been proven effective and we can all contribute by questioning our own views about homelessness and the people who experience it.
Tim Richter is the Founder, President and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH). The CAEH leads a national movement of individuals, organizations and communities working together to end homelessness in Canada. Under his leadership, the CAEH has: shaped federal, provincial and local homelessness action and policy including the national implementation of Housing First, the National Housing Strategy and Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy; hosted eight highly successful National Conferences on Ending Homelessness; launched a national Training and Technical Assistance program; led the 20,000 Homes Campaign – a national movement of communities that housed over 21,000 of Canada’s most vulnerable homeless people in less than four years; and, launched Built for Zero Canada – a national change effort helping a core group of leading communities end chronic and veteran homelessness – a first step on the path to eliminating all homelessness in Canada. Tim was also appointed co-chair of Canada’s National Housing Council in November 2020.