By Andrew Holeton:
This fall has been both exhilarating and exhausting, Ready to Rent’s RentSmart program has grown to many more communities across a number of provinces.
While months of calls and communication with new partners have been a big part of the past months, I recently got to meet many of these partners in person for the first time at CAEH2017 conference last month. As with any adventure, the side trip was as good as the primary purpose.
I should preface this by saying that despite personal experience and years of working in drop-in programs, I still feel like a newcomer to the policy framework that encompasses much of our work and that of our partners’. Conferences are often a good way to get a better sense of how policy impacts lives and those working on solutions.
The 2017 Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness conference was held in Treaty 1 Territory, Homeland of the Metis Nation, in the City of Winnipeg on Oct 24-27. Over a thousand people attended this gathering including many delegates who have experienced homelessness first hand. The conference also recognized both the teaching and knowledge of indigenous culture, as well as indigenous experience of homelessness in the wake of the devastating effects of colonization. Attending this gathering was humbling; somber and urgent in the need to act – inspiring in the call to effect solutions.
Highlights of the conference for me were:
• MP Adam Vaughn’s confirmation of new federal funds and a National Housing Strategy
• Community Solutions’ Beth Sandor’s presentation who said, “We need to put the same amount of energy into prevention as we do with housing if we’re going to end homelessness”
• The sacred fire that burned throughout the conference and those who gathered around its light and warmth
• Tobacco ties made by indigenous youth for delegates to use to as offerings to envision and affirm their commitments to the collective effort of ending homelessness?
I also had the chance to see Victoria’s own Pacifica Housing present about their success in engaging landlords as part of their Housing First program. Tim Aubry and Jennifer Rae spoke about the research that went into developing a landlord engagement toolkit due out through Homeless Hub in late November.
During their presentation a woman stood up and spoke powerfully about how the RentSmart course had been a huge help to her as a tenant and deserved to be included in the toolkit. As the presenters confirmed RentSmart was indeed part of the toolkit, I looked across to Bob Barkman and Sherry Madden from RentSmart Ontario. That moment crystalized for me the place our work has in ending homelessness. The Alberta clipper blowing through the streets was a further reminder of how bitter the struggle is playing out every day.
Outside of the conference, Kristi Fairholm Mader and I had the chance to spend some time with both our Manitoba and Ontario partners. Gord MacIntyre and Alana Ring Woodard from the Winnipeg Rental Network were fantastic hosts and told us about how the recent launch of RentSmart fit into their work. They also told us about working with a social enterprise called Manitoba Green Retrofit who they contracted for unit repairs and turnover.
As the conference concluded Kristi and I paid a visit to Winnipeg’s Social Enterprise Centre; home to MGR, BUILD and Aki Energy amongst other notable tenants. These social enterprises work in the housing sector as contractors to Manitoba Housing and others. They also train and employ people who face challenges in the traditional labour market; another piece of the puzzle in tackling the frequently connected challenges of homelessness and poverty.
Concluding this trip, we also had a chance to visit the Canadian Human Rights museum. Architecturally stunning and immersive, it was not dissimilar to the conference in emphasizing that we have both power and duty to care for each other.