Home is…where?…the heart is.


COoHIt’s not often I come across information that I’m not looking for, but turns out to be something I can use later.

Case in point: a report attempting to define what homelessness is.

I know what you’re thinking. I’ve talked about homelessness before, what it is, how it affects you in specific and society as a whole. Blah blah blah. Stop repeating yourself, David.

This definition is unique, though, and is worth writing about because the definition is both something I agree and disagree with.

This report was written a few years ago by an organization called “The Canadian Observatory On Homeless”, and is titled “Canadian Definition Of Homelessness”. The first thing that jumped out at me was the phrase “Canadian Definition Of Homelessness”. I don’t know about you but as far as I’m concerned, what country you live in shouldn’t alter the meaning of something. I mean, homelessness should mean the same thing whether you are in Canada, the USA, New Zealand, whatever, just as what happens when you combine oil and water together. Perhaps the language used changes the word: les sans-abri, beskućništvo, obdachlosigkeit, bezdomność, whatever, but it’s still the same definition. You don’t have a roof over your head so you are homeless. Simple.

Well, not to the authors who wrote this report. They did not stick to a specific definition, they instead used a spectrum, and what I mean by that is just as you have many forms of light — infrared, visible, ultraviolet — the authors decided to define homelessness as a state of degrees. This is where we to the “I agree and disagree with” part, but let’s first walk through what the authors wrote. This report is five pages long, and while I’ve made a link for you to read on your own free time, I’m not going to go through the entire report verbatim.

The report identifies the following tiers of homelessness, each of which I will comment on since having had experience being homeless: Unsheltered, Emergency Sheltered, Provisionally Accommodated, and At Risk Of Homelessness.

Unsheltered – This includes people who lack housing and are not accessing emergency shelters or accommodation, except during extreme weather conditions. In most cases, people are staying in places that are not designed for or fit for human habitation.

Agreed. This is the definition of homelessness most people are familiar with and see both in everyday life and in various forms of media and entertainment. I’ve slept on subway cars, buses, and in parks. This to me is what homelessness is.

Emergency Sheltered, including those staying in overnight shelters for people who are homeless, as well as shelters for those impacted by family violence.

Agreed. I’ve been in a men’s shelter for up to 10 days. While I have not been impacted by family violence, this definition is also a correct description of homelessness.

Provisionally Accommodated – referring to those whose accommodation is temporary or lacks security of tenure.

Well…what they are describing here is couchsurfing. Is this homelessness? I would disagree.

If this was homelessness, this means I’ve been homeless since November 2013 for about 2-and-a-half-years. This would include the time I stayed with my sister and brother-in-law after moving out of my own apartment, then after moving out, with my aunt, my mother, and my friends.

When you are couchsurfing, you are in a home. You have access to the services found in a home…a bathroom to relieve yourself and shower, a kitchen to prepare food to eat, a bedroom or a least a bed or couch to sleep on, and if possible Internet or a phone service to contact people, perhaps for a job search. You are using the place you are at correctly. It’s fit for human habitation.

There’s also the question about people who “live out of a suitcase” because their job dictates it. I’ve worked with contract computer programmers and system administrators from IBM Canada, IBM India and TCS/TATA who live contract to contract…literally. They rent a motel or stay with family because the nature of their job has them travelling often and over wide distances. Owning a home in their case would not only be a waste of money, it would limit the ability to be mobile that is demanded by their job.

To me, provisional accommodation is really not homelessness. Unstable, fluid, temporary housing perhaps…but not homelessness.

At Risk of Homelessness, referring to people who are not homeless, but whose current economic and/or housing situation is precarious or does not meet public health and safety standards.

This point is really stretching it. We all live in an Age of Austerity and the jobless recovery. This puts a great strain on those who are living paycheque to paycheque to pay the mortgage, the car, Jimmy or Janey’s new braces, whatever. How many times have you had, or have heard, a conversation like, “Honey, if we don’t pay our mortgage on time, the bank will foreclose” or “Geez, gotta get my rent cheque to my landlord or I’m out on my butt”? OFTEN! Everyone has these conversations! Even when I was gainfully employed, there were times that my budget needed  to be adjusted because paying my apartment rent on time was getting tough to do. We all go through this.

I agree with a lot of the points in this report. It’s easy to understand, using common everyday language most people can follow, and avoids the use of charts and graphs that sometimes overwhelm the reader. It is, however, painting a very broad brush on what homelessness and that muddies the water. It’s pulling in a lot of things hither and fro and I’ve written in the past that in order to solve a problem, you have to understand the problem by defining what it is. This report, though well-meaning, could make that definition very fuzzy.

Thanks for reading!

David.

 

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