A Place To Call Home

We all need a place to call home. At the very least, we need a place to feel safe, rest and recharge, raise
families, grow old.  What we may call home could be made of brick, stone, mud, cardboard, tinfoil or a ywca_toronto-actonhousing-02windblown UN tent in a refugee journey somewhere.  Lives and experiences could not be more diverse and yet the need to be housed, feel safe and experience a sense of belonging is as fundamental and universal as the air we breathe.  It is a human right.

Canada has welcomed refugees from Syria and beyond. Immigration Minister John McCallum has said countless times that he is probably the only Immigration Minister in the world whose major challenge is that he cannot bring in refugees fast enough to satisfy the demands of Canadians who want to support them. However, for refugees arriving at our doors, the safety, prosperity and belonging we offer is compromised by our inability to house them.

From November 2015 to June 2016, Canada resettled over 37,000 refugees of which 15,000 settled in Ontario representing 40.5% of Canada’s total*.  Toronto, Ottawa, London and Mississauga resettled the largest numbers. To our credit as a community, we were quick to provide them with access to schools, ESL, skills training, jobs, community connections, social and health services.

YWCA Toronto’s JUMP settlement programs offers support to newcomer women in Scarborough and Etobicoke. What we hear time and time again from the women we work with is that they cannot find safe, affordable housing.

Too many newcomers remain trapped in temporary dwellings, delaying their chance to settle into Canadian life. In fact, refugees’ needs expose Canada’s housing crisis.

The lack of affordable housing is a national emergency. There are 1.5 million Canadian households living in core housing need with half of them spending over 50% of their income on rent. One in five Indigenous people living off reserve are homeless or live in precarious housing situations. For Indigenous People in the North, housing and repair costs are higher, fueling extreme poverty rates. The lack of federal investment in safe, affordable housing affects young people, single parents, low and mid-income families, the working poor and seniors.  It creates significant barriers for women, as violence and homelessness are closely connected.

One could say that the absence of an affordable housing strategy in Canada is a threat to the nation’s long term prosperity.  We all need permanent housing and a place to call home. We need a national affordable housing strategy and we must act now. After all, housing is a fundamental and universal human need and as such, a universal human right.

Dolores Montavez-Ruz is a member of YWCA Toronto’s Employment and Training management team. 

*Minister of Citizenship and Immigration – Ontario Refugee Resettlement Update, Newcomer Leadership Table, September 29, 2016.