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‘Some ... have called it cruel’: Homelessness worker says dismantling encampments goes against city’s Housing First strategy

Forcing homeless to take down tents causes them to scatter, making it more difficult to provide services

Actions such as the repeated dismantling of the Memorial Park homeless encampment not only make it more difficult for successful outreach, but are also in opposition to the city’s Housing First strategy, said Homelessness Network co-ordinator Raymond Landry.

The Housing First strategy is evidence-based, and one that the federal government has put central to the National Homelessness Strategy

It is also the mandate adopted by the City of Greater Sudbury in 2016, and the focus of their funding partnership with The Homelessness Network. 

The issue is that the consistent upheaval of those requiring services, of those looking for housing, is contrary to the guiding principles of Housing First.

According to their core values, the goal of the Homelessness Network is “to assist those who are absolutely homeless; for example, those living on the streets or in places not intended for human habitation, or staying in emergency shelters, to find and maintain housing through a case management program, specialized in assisting those in need by addressing barriers to achieving permanent housing.”

Housing First is the concept that people are better able to move forward with their lives if they are housed, and studies show this is a stronger approach than what’s known as Treatment First, taking care of the person’s treatment needs before finding them housing.

Under the Housing First Mandate, housing is provided first and then supports are provided including physical and mental health, education, employment, substance abuse and community connections.

But it is these Housing First values that one outreach worker (who did not wish to be named) told Sudbury.com are being ignored every time a homeless encampment is dismantled or residents are required to move. 

A seven-year veteran of housing outreach, they feel the money spent with bylaw officers and enforcement repeatedly pushing for the removal of tents, causing people to scatter throughout the city, could be better spent with housing and outreach support. 

This is especially the case when city funding is used for both the dismantling and the outreach work, as well as the bylaw enforcement, and two security personnel at the park for 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, said the outreach worker. 

They said they had a client scheduled to attend a much needed psychiatric appointment, one they had been on a waiting list for over several months. The day of the appointment was Aug. 12, the same day as the dismantling of the Memorial Park encampment, carried out by City of Greater Sudbury bylaw officers and park employees. 

The client missed the appointment, as they were trying to move their belongings to another location for the night. The outreach worker told Sudbury.com they only recently were able to locate him. 

Landry told Sudbury.com this type of dismantling — and especially recent violence seen during dismantling events in Toronto and Halifax — is not helpful to those working with the city to get this vulnerable population off the streets and into housing.

“Some people have called it cruel, criminal in nature,” said Landry. “Disrespecting human rights and individual rights and freedoms and anything that presents as violent or creates more violence is not the best approach.” 

Landry said even with the “extreme difficulties and challenges that are presented in today's world,” specifically, a pandemic world facing an opioid and mental health crisis, he would like to see a better way forward. 

“We hope that as community service providers, backed by the city, we can find a better way,” said Landry. “Something that will help people move forward in a way that makes sense for them.”

Landry said these dispersals make the work much more difficult. The goal of the Homelessness Network, under the Housing First mandate, is to connect with people on their own terms, to offer them resources, referrals and intakes for housing. 

“Using that Housing First model, known as a best practice around the world, especially for dealing with chronic homelessness, we meet those needs as best we can,” said Landry. “Helping persons find housing, get housed, and then maintain that housing through to stability over time.”

But it is not so easy, said Landry, and again, made more difficult by the dismantling of encampments, causing clients to scatter. 

“With all the obstacles to find housing and then get to the housing - meaning for an individual to sign a tenancy agreement with a landlord who was willing to rent to them - there's the whole issue of being able to manage their lives, with all of the complexities they're living with,” said Landry.  

“Within the new social order, between four walls, in a community of persons who are housed, moving from being homeless and transitioning into a space that is ‘yours’ but knowing that you're part of a neighborhood and the community, presents major challenges. That's why we think Housing First with support is a better way to go.” 

Not only is it very difficult to house those who are able to live on their own, there is also the issue of complex cases. For those in need of housing, a five-year wait stands between them and a one bedroom subsidized unit; those with intersectional needs, perhaps living with addiction, mental health concerns and a disability, are finding “siloed” services that will only meet one need, when the issues are interrelated, which poses an even greater obstacle to housing. 

“Even simply managing finances and bank accounts and coming to a point of paying bills on time,” said Landry. “These are basic things that you don't necessarily have to do when you're on the streets. What we might see as routine for those of us who are used to having a home or an apartment, renting, paying bills, having enough income to manage those, these are all challenges for most persons who are used to being homeless and other complexities that they're living with.”

Landry also said that the slide into homelessness is not one so far from every person. “We know clearly that a well-installed and socialized person who suddenly becomes mentally ill can easily lose it all, just because of the mental illness,” said Landry.  

“Or if they happen to have grown into an addiction because of an injury, we've seen many people lose it all. Because of that addiction. So nobody's really different that way. It's a matter of condition and experience.”

Landry said the short term solution is supportive housing, but in the long term, Sudbury needs more permanent and affordable housing options. 

“And by affordable, I mean for the poorest of the poor,” said Landry. “Persons who are making less than $12,000 a year to live on. We need to think about them, and increase the housing stock overall, to accommodate all families and individuals that are part of our society.”


 

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Jenny Lamothe

About the Author: Jenny Lamothe

Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with Sudbury.com. She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized.
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