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Sudbury homelessness researcher questions city consultant’s encampment strategy

Consultant Iain De Jong will present to Greater Sudbury city council again this evening

Sudbury homelessness researcher and advocate Carol Kauppi said the document created by the homelessness consultant hired by the city is lacking information, and does not honour the rights of homeless people.

In response, Iain De Jong, the consultant hired by the city, told Sudbury.com he created a guide, not a report, and that he feels he included everything that the guide required, especially with the time-constraints the homelessness crisis demands. 

That, and the right to public spaces is one that belongs to the whole community.  

De Jong was brought in to assist the city in developing a plan for dealing with the encampments in the city. 

He presented the guide to council on Oct. 12, and council will continue to debate the issue at tonight’s meeting (Oct. 26).

The 44-page Greater Sudbury Encampment Response Guide provided by De Jong details what he believes are the issues causing and exacerbating homelessness in Sudbury, followed by two sections: Mitigation, detailing the the services and tasks to be completed when engaging with “an unsheltered person living in an encampment,” and closure, detailing the enforcement and and service offers to “assist people when an encampment goes through a voluntary or emergency closure.”  

In an interview with Sudbury.com, Kauppi, a professor at Laurentian University and a researcher who has specifically pursued an understanding of homelessness in Northern Ontario for the last 20 years, said that she was shocked at several components of De Jong’s report.  

From the disconnect between the preamble and the actual plan, the lack of information regarding literature reviews and methodology, as well as the aspects of the document that are universal - not specific to Northern Ontario, Kauppi told Sudbury.com, “I have no idea how the information was gathered for this report, and that's a major concern because it doesn't indicate a systematic study of the published literature, and the local population.”

While Kauppi praised the initial portions of the guide, she believes there is disconnect between that and the encampment response provided. 

“There was a contradiction between a lot of that good information and the actual steps that Sudbury should take to deal with the encampments,” said Kauppi. “It’s as if the consultant didn't know how to translate the information about the structural causes of homelessness into progressive way of dealing with the encampments.”

She said a basic underlying principle in published literature about encampments is that housing is the solution. 

“In the context of the pandemic, a lot of people have been losing their housing and becoming homeless,” said Kauppi. “What needs to be done now is to create more affordable housing. People don't generally want to live in encampments.” 

She also feels that there should have been more focus on connecting with those who have lived experience, something she has found valuable and a step now federally mandated as part of 

the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing’s report, “A human rights approach: A national protocol for homeless encampments in Canada (2020).” 

That report features a mandate to engage with persons with lived experience in encampments, and says it is critical that these persons are considered to be experts in their own lives. 

Kauppi feels there should be someone with lived experience as part of the response table created by De Jong’s guide, which currently consists of a local response leader, street outreach response leader, Indigenous services provider leader, and operations leader and a public safety response leader. 

Kauppi also took issue with the requirement of people who are homeless to provide personal information to outreach workers as part of receiving service; information they may not wish to provide, and not to a government or authority.

In response to Kauppi’s critiques, De Jong told Sudbury.com first it was a guide he created, and that is not just a semantic argument to him. To De Jong, a guide is written and presented in a very different way than a report.

As to methodology, De Jong said that he volunteered to come to Sudbury, and offered an evaluation with no cost and no expectation. De Jong told Sudbury.com in an earlier interview that he was privately contacted by a local non-profit organization and asked to evaluate the situation. 

“I offered to come to the community in late August, spending part of one day by myself to see the encampments, spend a full day with the outreach team, spend half a day with bylaw, and spend some time with the Greater Sudbury Police Service on their engagements,” said De Jong.

He said he met with city staff to “capture background information on the state of homelessness in the city,” and met with service providers about pressure points in the system, the effects of COVID-19 and any new initiatives in the works. He then offered his observations, and the city hired him to complete the Greater Sudbury Encampment Response Guide.  

De Jong said his consultations, in addition to his breadth of knowledge in the area, are more than sufficient, adding that other cities and jurisdictions cite the work of De Jong’s firm, OrgCode Consulting Inc.  

“We're one of the key resources when it comes to response, so the Greater City of Sudbury did not have to pay for a learning curve.” 

De Jong said that the team is well-versed “on almost 30 years of scholarship on housing first,” and while he notes there is not much theory or published literature on dealing with encampments, he is continually updating his knowledge and is routinely invited to meetings with “high-level policy-makers.” 

He said that puts OrgCode on the leading edge of encampment response. 

“I would say that the onsite investigations were thorough, our accessing information and existing state of homelessness and response was thorough, understanding of the main currents of thought and practice are thorough, and I'd say our understanding of the literature is thorough.”

De Jong agrees that the solution to homelessness is housing, and feels perhaps Kauppi misunderstood the guide. 

“I think the professor either hasn't read the guide or doesn't understand,” he said. “I believe that the guide is consistent in saying, based upon all the conditions in the local Greater Sudbury context, that the solution to encampments is an intensive support and housing response.” 

In terms of primary research with those living in encampments, De Jong said that is not only outside of what he was asked to do, but to him, not an appropriate initial response. 

“The beginning of this process, what we wanted to do is hear from the people that provide the direct service and day to day interactions,” said De Jong. “It would be completely unethical for me to show up and ask people to repeat their story that they've already told an outreach worker when I can get the summarization of the main themes that outreach workers are confronted with, their experiences as well as by law, police and other community stakeholders, as well as shelter providers.”

The next step in terms of getting to specific means is the next step in the guide, said De Jong.  “The phenomenal amount of work that outreach and other community institutes are going to have to do to further understand the specific needs of each person to carve out a solution to their homelessness that's based upon the specific needs of the individual.”

But with that said, De Jong said he did have some conversations with those who were open to talking. “What I can absolutely say, unequivocally, is that those conversations highlighted the very simple things that other stakeholders had already told me based on their experience.”

De Jong said that if the city would like him to complete individual research, he would be happy to do so.  

“If the city and the community wanted me to go about doing individual research and interviews with every single person with lived experience, I would absolutely do that. And it would come at a tremendous cost.”

De Jong said given the volume of time and attention that would be required, and the urgency with which the city would like to respond to the issue, he felt it was more appropriate to use existing information and supplement that as the process moves forward. He said that engagement with those who have lived experience is a core part of “the litany of projects we’ve worked on,” and that some of these projects will soon be highlighted at a conference hosted by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.  

“We understand when a project lends itself to having to engage with people with lived experience to get primary information,” said De Jong. “And when we can, as in the development of this guide, we rely on resources as a starting point.” 

As to Kauppi’s issues with the sharing of information required for service, a co-ordinated access list, De Jong states that the issue should be addressed by the federal government, as it is a part of the federally mandated Built for Zero Canada program and that service providers in Ontario are required to maintain this list. “If the professor has an issue with that as a policy, she should take it up with other levels of government, not the municipality.” 

De Jong adds that he did not see the need to “write out pages upon pages about what our expertise is in this area.” He added that anyone who has researched his work and the work of OrgCode would see what they can offer.  

“Then you need to get to the place of solutions,” said De Jong, and speaks of the Housing First mandates, which is a government-mandated policy in order to get people supportively housed before any treatment for issues is required.  

“If the professor is unaware of the literature on housing first, I think that that can be easily shared with her,” said De Jong. “And if she believes something different than ending homelessness through housing supports, then I would like to see the scholarship that supports an approach that isn't focused on solutions to resources.”  

De Jong said he has also reached out to Kauppi to discuss her concerns, but has not spoken to her as yet.