Each year organizations, governments and community groups come together to 'celebrate' National Housing Day.
The day marked the declaration of homelessness in Canada as a national disaster.
This year on November 13th I gathered with representatives from faith communities across Ottawa at the the Multifaith Housing Initiative's marking of this important day. Multifaith's work creates affordable housing throughout Ottawa leveraging the collective power of many faith based and religious organizations.
So why would MHI consider their day a celebration? The answer is in the work they do collectively...
Too often today our view of religion is coloured by what we see on the television news, where 'religious groups' are frequently labelled as fighting each other. While that may be true in some places around the world for a variety of reasons it absolutely does not reflect our reality here in Ottawa.
The history of charity, kindness and helping those among us in need has been ingrained in almost every religion and belief structure since time began. Religious groups of all faith were the first to provide what we call today 'social services'.
Realizing the urgent problem that homelessness posed to Ottawa and the country, MHI brought together from all walks of life people of all faiths (even those of 'no faith') to collectively mount a challenge to address homelessness in our community.
Years laters - MHI is a success. Today they build, promote and protect affordable housing for many in our community. Currently they are working on a project aimed at serving those military veterans among us who are homeless. Veterans House will serve those who have served us so well and who now need our help.
Over the months to come, working with MHI I will be helping to accelerate the day that Veterans House opens its doors.
On November 22nd - one day before the official Housing Day, I co-hosted with the Alliance to End Homelessness a U.S. researcher, Mary-Beth Shinn for a discussion forum at City Hall. Mary-Beth's work in America in a large multi year study looked at many of the tools and systems we use (or can use) to address housing issues for people and drew some interesting - if predictable -findings.
Comparing several different models of supports and housing assistance the study concluded that the most overwhelming driver of ongoing homelessness (not necessarily the cause of the original loss of home) was the high cost of living. With stable, media to deep subsidies most people could make their way, grow and begin to prosper again. Food for thought for Ontario as we begin to look at a 'basic income'. Together with City staff I will be participating in the Ontario Government's feedback sessions on the basic income guarantee - and pushing the idea of an Ottawa pilot study.
Finally on November 22nd my team and I attended the annual Community Forum on Ending Homelessness. In addition to sharing on behalf of Mayor Watson and myself our personal commitment to ending homelessness in Ottawa - I also had a chance to meet with support agencies, housing teams and even recently homeless youth.
Mid day was also an opportunity to attend the planned announcement by Federal Minister Duclos and Evan Siddal of CMHC on the National Housing Strategy. After months of consultations from coast to coast to coast - the 'what we heard' document was before us. The next steps will be tougher. Now we must work with our Federal partners to move from listening to action.
So while National Housing Day is just that ... a day... it spread over a week and felt much longer. A good reality check I thought about homelessness.
A day can feel like a week without a home.