I love watching the DIY channel to see how they flip houses. The transformations from drab to fabulous are fascinating! I also noticed that often the most expensive renovations are to the outdated structures that are not visible in the final reveal. Things like faulty wiring, leaky plumbing, and cracked foundations are the most costly to fix, but are also the most important to the structural integrity of the building. 

This structural integrity is exactly how author Isabel Wilkerson describes the inherited racist systems that we are faced with today in her book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. We may not have built the house, but now we have to deal with the mess we’ve inherited. If we don’t fix the issues, the building will only get worse and will eventually collapse. 

There is no better metaphor for the effects of racism than this one when addressing access to housing. First of all, have you noticed that most house flippers on these DIY shows are white? The Property Brothers, Masters of Flip, even Holmes on Homes – all white. The reason for this is racism. 

Canada has a long history of racism rooted in colonialism that has built the foundations of our current housing systems. In simple terms, wealth was historically accumulated through owning property and this wealth was passed on from generation to generation. Black and Indigenous people were largely unable to own land due to racist policies and this wealth gap still exists today. 

According to Homeless Hub, we see this as young Black Canadians are over-represented among youth experiencing homelessness, Black people are statistically less likely to have access to permanent supportive housing than white people, Black women are evicted at higher rates, and Black Canadians face systemic housing discrimination by landlords. 

Within the City of Greater Sudbury, 42% of the homeless identify as Indigenous, while Indigenous people make up only 9.4% of the city’s population (Homeless Hub, 2018).

This past month, Black Lives Matter – Sudbury participated in a rally to protest the illegal eviction of several tenants. The landlord was using bullying tactics, such as, turning off heat and hydro and removing doors from rooms. The tenants, mostly low-income individuals who are already precariously housed, were being forced from their homes during a pandemic. The rally successfully stopped the eviction and the tenants were able to stay within their homes.

Adequate access to safe and affordable housing can have a compounding effect on a person’s life by increasing access to better jobs, education, healthcare, and social supports. Solving the issue of homelessness can have ripple effects and create a healthier community. 

As we have seen in the past few years, the housing market is priced increasingly out of reach for most people while wages remain stagnant. At this rate, homelessness will continue to rise. According to Raising the Roof Canada, “families with children are the fastest growing homeless demographic. That number is only expected to grow, as over 10% of Canadian families currently live below the low income cut-off—unable to meet even the most basic needs.”

How is having access to adequate housing considered a privilege? 

  • You have an address to apply for better jobs, loans, and educational opportunities
  • You are not sick from molding or unsanitary conditions
  • You have access to safe spaces to sleep, washrooms, and showers for personal hygiene

7 ways to check your privilege and end homelessness 

Get political.

The greatest influence on systemic issues is to tackle them from the inside out. People experiencing homelessness are eligible to vote, but they may not be aware of or have access to the information or to the polling stations. Lack of access to the internet and transportation are identified as barriers by people experiencing homelessness. Use your privilege to vote for policies that support affordable housing, addictions counseling, funding for shelters, raising of wages, and regulations in the housing market. 

Do your research.

Homelessness does not exist in a vacuum. There are often cultural, historical, economic, and political factors that are affecting people experiencing homelessness. How have other countries managed to solve the housing issues? Finland is the first country to adopt a housing-first approach and it’s working. Sudbury also adopted the housing first model to address homelessness but we have a long way to go. We need more affordable housing and services to support this model.

Look at the bigger picture.

How are these factors intertwined? How does having access to housing affect every other facet of someone’s life? Looking at these factors can help us prevent homelessness in the first place. If housing was more affordable and wages were higher, would there be as many people struggling to find housing? 

Amplify the voices of people with lived experience.

In order to create sustainable solutions, we must identify and resolve the structural issues that create homelessness. People who have experienced homelessness have a unique perspective that is valuable when creating solutions to the problem. Listen to their stories and create opportunities for them to help inform a community housing strategy. 

Work to stop criminalizing homelessness.

Over the years, many laws and public policies were created to “solve” the homelessness problem, such as, laws against panhandling, loitering, and sleeping in public spaces. However, instead of addressing the root causes of homelessness, such as, poverty, mental illness, domestic violence, lack of affordable housing, and racism (just to name a few), these decisions resulted in the increased criminalization of homelessness. The legal system seeks to punish and further marginalize people instead of lift them out of their current situation. 

Defund the police.

Homelessness is not a criminal issue, however, people experiencing homelessness are over-policed. Use your voice to advocate for and vote for policies and budget allocations that put money toward solutions that are rooted in caring for and developing a healthy community. If you see someone in need of help, don’t call the police. Instead, call one of the many community services that are better suited to address the issue, such as, social workers, mental health workers, community nurses, or EMT.

Build affordable housing.

Advocate for and vote for policies and solutions that seek to create more affordable housing. Sudbury has many existing spaces and buildings that can be creatively transitioned into geared-to-income and subsidized housing. Look for ways to support the services that are currently working with the homeless population, such as, mental health, addictions services, social workers, and many others.