On Saturday, February 23, Member of Parliament Randall Garrison and Member of the Legislative Assembly Mitzi Dean co-hosted a town hall on housing affordability and homelessness in Esquimalt and the Western Communities. As part of the panel discussion, Lisa Crossman, Co-Chair of the Coalition’s People With Lived Experience team and Indigenous Peer Housing Supporter, gave the following presentation. Our thanks to Lisa for her leadership and courage in turning her lived experience into an asset that serves others.

Housing Town Hall, Lisa Crossman

Worldview

Worldview is defined as a philosophy of life or conception of the world. What is your currently held worldview, and conceptualization of homelessness?

Given the topic of today’s meeting, it can be assumed that most people here are going to have some sort of involvement, or vested interest on the subject. There are many in this room today who have experienced homelessness personally, and we honour their presence here. For those of us who have experienced homelessness, we hold a specific worldview on the society around us, because of those experiences.

However, homelessness is not a dichotomous subject. It is not to be understood as “I have experienced homelessness”, or “I have not experienced homelessness”. It is a spectrum of experiences, and it affects each and every person in our society. Each and every person in this room has, at one point or another, had experiences in relation to homelessness, whether consciously or subconsciously. It has affected you, and it affects every part of our communities.

So, in what way have you been affected by homelessness, and how has that defined your current worldview? How has it impacted your thoughts, behaviours, feelings, and actions? How do you gather your information regarding the realities of experiences with homelessness? How are you influenced? When was the last time you had an open, authentic, and genuine discussion on the topic with someone who is actively living homelessness?

Broken System

One commonly held mythology in our society today states that homelessness is the ‘problem’. Instead, when we understand how our current social system is broken, we will begin to see that homelessness is not the problem. It is a symptom of the problem of the broken system. That problem is one that takes lives, disempowers individuals, eliminates personal choice and freedom, and crushes hope.

As a person with lived experience of homelessness, I am living proof that the system is broken. A system that, despite my tremendous efforts to succeed, has to this day continued to present me with barriers personally, and in the areas of colonization, the education system, the social services systes, the employment sector, and all levels of government. And that is just me. There are so many more people, with many more experiences with the broken system in all of the ways that can possibly exist.

In terms of the Lived Experience story, and the worldviews we share in our experiences, I am hard pressed to find one individual who has a lived experience of homelessness and who has not been victimized by this broken system. A system, which in its very nature, is founded on the values of colonialism, and is an intricate and disconnected web that has proven to allow so many of us to fall through its gaps and holes, and which has kept us held down involuntarily by the infinite barriers it presents daily. A system which is kept alive through the flow of stigma, misinformation, ignorance, and apathy. Mainly broken, because by its nature, it is not person-centered, and it limits personal choice.

In terms of affecting positive change and growth to this system, we need to shift our worldview. We need to remember that this broken system can be mended, and that experiences with homelessness can begin on a path to recovery. This will happen when those who are turning the cogs in the wheels of this system begin to place their focus on individuals, rather than policies and procedures.

By creating a proactive and person-centered society, rather than a reactive and crisis-fuelled society, we can begin to create a solid and firm network of supports beneath people, so they will no longer be lost through gaps and holes. By focusing more on the personal needs of individuals, rather than on creating policies, we will begin to give the gift of personal empowerment, rather than building walls and creating barriers of regulations and categorizations.

Challenges

To increase the potential for healing our people, our communities, and our society with experiences of homelessness, I speak to the following challenges:

To governments:

  • Acknowledge, honour, and make happen the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action by Indigenous Peoples. Create a culture of Reconciliation in our society, and in our system, on all levels.
  • Create a culture of support for individuals in our region. A community-based support network that can be seen through all levels of government systems and communities.
  • Decriminalize homelessness. Eliminate personal financial and criminal debt incurred due to, and while, experiencing homelessness.

To community organizations:

  • Increase and create opportunities for recognition, inclusion, engagement, and employment at a living wage for people with a lived experience of homelessness. This should not be a question, it should be an organizational mandate.
  • Revisit the term ‘outreach.’ The word outreach is not a job title. It is an action word, and it is the backbone of person-centered support in advocacy and best practice within the recovery movement.

To the Community:

  • Take some time to regularly practice self-introspection in relation to your current worldview on experiences with homelessness:
    • How are you choosing to formulate your current worldview?
    • How are you choosing the ways you participate in giving and receiving information on experiences with homelessness?
    • How do your actions define that worldview?
    • Do you base your knowledge on the voices of lived experience, or do you cling to commonly held mythologies about experiences with homelessness?
  • Please help to support and heal the broken relationships in our communities.

 

In Crisis?:

If you require urgent emotional support, including having thoughts of suicide and other mental health issues, please call Vancouver Island Crisis Line: 1-888-494-3888.

Youth (under 25 years of age) may access youthspace.ca for online emotional support.

For other resources, including shelter availability, visit bc211.ca