Canada’s Affordable Housing Crisis

Sliding stock markets, sinking commodity prices and retracting of the global economy.

The news is filled with stories of clouds hanging low over the economy, of turmoil and unrest, political disenchantment and economic disaster.

And so the world spins.

I spent Wednesday last week at a roundtable meeting on Canada’s affordable housing crisis. We met with hopefuls running in the Federal election — 2 Green Party candidates at the first session. 6 Liberals at the second. 5 NDP at the third. The Conservatives did not turn up.

Sponsored by the CHRA (Canadian Housing and Renewal Association), our goal as organizations involved in homelessness and housing is to raise the issue of Canada’s affordable housing crisis on their agenda, and thus, to make it into a national conversation this election.

The candidates who came were passionate, committed and interested in learning more about the issues surrounding housing and homelessness. And, they wanted to ensure we understood why their Party is the one to vote for.

Though the NDP has long fought for a national housing strategy, it is the Green Party who has taken concrete action this election by announcing on August 25th the Party’s plan to invest in social and affordable housing.

Yet, even in their statement, there is evidence of their lack of understanding of the depth of the issue, and the causal factors that lead to homelessness.

In the media release that The Green Party distributed on their proposed National Housing Strategy, Lynne Quarmby, an electoral hopeful is quoted as saying, “The leading cause of homelessness is poverty.”

Not true.

Homelessness is first and foremost a result of governments (all levels) failure to plan and action a housing strategy that would make available, safe, secure and affordable housing at a scale that is aligned to meet the needs of the population.

Homelessness is an outcome of what we have done to create it.

Since the 1990s, with the withdrawal of the federal government’s investment in affordable housing, provinces and municipalities have struggled to respond. In their report on The State of Homelessness in Canada 2014, authors Stephen Gaetz, Tanya Gulliver and Tim Richter state: “Declining wages (even minimum wage has not kept up with inflation in any jurisdiction in Canada), reduced benefit levels–including pensions and social assistance – and a shrinking supply of affordable housing have placed more and more Canadians at risk of homelessness.” (Source Document) 

The report goes on to state:

“The rise of modern mass homelessness in Canada can be traced directly back to the withdrawal of the Federal government’s investment in affordable housing and pan-Canadian cuts to welfare beginning in the 1980s. In 1982, all levels of government combined funded 20,450 new social housing units annually. By 1995, the number dropped to around 1,000, with numbers slowly climbing to 4,393 annually by 2006. Over the past 25 years, while Canada’s population increased by almost 30%, annual national investment in housing has decreased dramatically, by over 46%. In 1989, Canadians contributed, through taxation, an average of $115 per person to federal housing investments. By 2013, that figure had dropped to just over $60 per person (in 2013 dollars).”

Homelessness didn’t happen because a whole bunch of Canadians decided they didn’t want to stay at home. It happened because they did not have access to the resources and affordable housing they needed to live at home.

The Green Party’s release also states that Canada is the only OECD member without a national housing strategy.

Not true.

Most OECD members do not have a national housing strategy. What can be stated is that Canada has a rate of social renting less than the average of any other OECD country. Canada does not do a good job of taking care of its vulnerable populations. As an example, rental households most in need of support are female-led lone-parent families, seniors living alone, aboriginal families and recent new comers to Canada. (source)

A comment often heard when talking about homelessness, and one stated by one of the Green Party candidates, is that we are all one pay cheque away from homelessness.

Not true.

We’re not all one pay cheque away. Most of us have resources, and an inherent resiliency that can sustain us longer than one pay cheque should hard times hit.

That’s because, most of us are not forced to continually make decisions between putting food on the table, a roof over our heads or school books in the hands of our children. Most of us have had the privilege of being able to build lives that fulfill our dreams and allow us to feel like productive members of society. Most of us have had relatively easy access to the resources we needed to get an education, job training, health care and health supports that ensured we have what we take for granted; the daily comfort of knowing we are at home, secure and safe in our world.

For those living on the margins, whose lack of resources and limited resiliency are impeded by social policies that do not provide access to adequate income and/or housing, tough economic times call for them to do what they’ve always done. Dig in. Hunker down. Keep existing. Keep going from one door to the next hoping to find access to the resources that truly will make a difference between having nothing, and having the opportunity to lead their children, and themselves, out of poverty.

Unfortunately, for the one in ten Canadians Statistics Canada reported as living in poverty after the 2009 recession, they’ve been down so long, there is no upside to their economic situation, no matter where the world is at. No matter the economic times, vulnerable populations remain vulnerable in the face of scarcity and plenty. Unless, we do something different.

What can you do to make a difference? Join in the conversation. Help raise affordable housing onto the national agenda. When a federal candidate comes to your door, ask them, “What do you know about Canada’s affordable housing crisis?” And then ask, “What do you and your party plan to do about it? How can I help?”

Nourishing heart and soul.

My laptop is not well.

It’s been churning and spinning, slower and slower.

So… no blog today. 🙂

I did try working on my piece on my Ipad but it just isn’t the same.

While I have been able to post using the Ipad, I don’t feel as flexible nor as confident.

So, another choice to let it go for today and simply be present in the flow.

This weekend is my mother’s 93rd Birthday celebration. My sister arrived last night and we are about to take Beaumont to the park for his walk.

Tomorrow, my family are coming to celebrate my mom’s birthday dinner together.

Spending time with those I love in the ‘real’ world feeds my heart. It nourishes my soul.

May you spend your time this weekend nourishing your heart and soul.


The choice to come back tomorrow.

I have something to say and am struggling to find the words to say it.

The issue isn’t personal. It’s national in scope. Political. It’s about a social issue, a cause near and dear to my heart.

One of my foundational premises of writing here is that it takes me 45 minutes to write and post each day.

I’ve just spent two hours working on this piece and I’m still not satisfied with where it’s at.

It’s a great lesson. To let it go as is or to keep working on it.

I’m choosing the latter.

It is much too important a subject to just let loose a rant that is incorherent or lacking in depth.

So I leave it for today and will come back to it tomorrow.

Have a good one!

Walking the trap line: Homelessness in the city.

I am walking south on the street when I spy him walking on the avenue, from the east, towards me. His face is obscured by a scraggly salt and pepper beard, his eyes are hidden behind long hair that hangs about his face. He’s wearing a rumpled green rain jacket over an equally rumpled dark coloured shirt and pants. In one hand he carries a big black garbage bag and over the opposite shoulder he totes a black computer bag.

He looks visibly homeless and for a moment, I do not recognize him.

He sees me. Stops and peers intently at me through piercing blue eyes.

I look back. We smile at each other in recognition.  

“M!” I call out in delight. I am happy to see him. And we step into eachother’s arms for a hug.

It’s rush hour. Traffic is stopped at the light at the corner where we stand. People glance at us and stare. 

A middle aged woman in business attire. A middle aged man in ‘street’ attire.

We are an odd pair. 

We hug again and I ask him what he’s up to.

“Walking my trap line,” he says and he shakes the black garbage bag slightly. It rattles with the sounds of cans and glass bottles.

I laugh. Oh yes. The trap line. 

It is one of the songs created for Shelter from the Storm, the musical showcase of songs from the homeless shelter the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre staged in July as part of Sled Island. It was amazing.

M. was one of the artists who contributed to the show, both musically and technically. He is gifted in so many ways. A regular at the art studio I helped create at the shelter, every Friday afternoon he can be found on the second floor of the shelter, manning the sound system for ArtBeat, a one hour musical interlude where musicians from Calgary, and elsewhere, share their talents with the clients and staff of the Drop-In.

For M, ArtBeat is a baby he helped nurture and grow into one of the ‘to be at’ musical venues of the week. From helping paint the backdrop to setting up the sound board and ensuring the technology works every week, M has played a part.

We walk west along the avenue together. I am on my way back to the office from an early morning breakfast meeting and M. is checking his trap line for possible catch. A bottle in this bin. A coin left in the parking machine. He is efficient in his checks, barely breaking step with me as he casually lifts the lid off a streetside bin or dips a finger into the silver change slot of a parking machine lining our route.

As he checks, we walk and talk and catch up on eachother’s lives.

His father passed away recently. He went to the funeral.

Years ago, that might not have happened. Since becoming involved in the art scene both at the shelter and in the city, M has reconnected with the core of his being. Artist. Musician. Craftsman. Human.

In his reconnection to his creative self, he has reconnected with family, visiting and checking in with them regularly.

It is not something that happens often in homelessness. People drift away from family, away from the roots that once held them in place.  They drift away and learn to live on their own carrying the burden of homelessness as a shield, a blanket. They become isolated. Disconnected. The shelter and its people, the street and those who call it home, become their family, the place where they are known and where they know they fit.

The past was a place that hurt. They don’t want to go back. Many times they can’t.

And so, they mourn what was lost and carry on and when news of someone they once knew arrives, good or bad, they tuck it away and focus on the street ahead.

They’ve got trap lines to check. People to meet. Places to go.

I met an old friend on the street the other day. we chatted about where we’ve been. About family and friends and shared experiences of creative expressions at the shelter where I used to work and where he still lives. They’re getting closer to finding him a place to live, he tells me. He’ll be out soon.

And I hope it’s true.

I left him at the corner of 7th and 4th. 

I turned south towards my office and he carried on in the opposite direction, the black plastic bag filling up with the product of his labours as he walked the streets of the concrete jungle where his trap line is set and he knows its path.

I am a father, a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend. I am a writer. A musician. A carpenter. An artist. I laugh. I cry. I bleed. I hurt. Which of these are diminished because I am homeless? he once asked me.

None of them, I replied.

In the tapestry of our life.


Beaumont keeps growing and enriching the tapestry of my life. 

Life is a beautiful tapestry. Colour and feeling woven together, threads drawn, threads snipped. Threads that hold their weave forever, threads that loose their warp and loosen. Each day threads connect, disconnect, Weave in. Weave out. Up and down, in and out in a rhythmic wave of motion.
The tapestry of my life is created beneath a warm and gentle weave of waves rolling into the sea, pulling under, pulling out, pushing forward. Each person, each encounter, each moment creates a delicate, vibrant thread, to be followed, to be left alone, to be explored, to be cherished for the value it adds, then tucked into the warp so that it doesn’t unravel.

We each have our tapestry. Vibrant. Colourful. Filled with design. Sometimes balanced. Sometimes just a riotous explosion of feeling and texture and colour and design.

Sometimes, we step back and look at a thread and see where its value has created a unique perspective that will last a lifetime. Sometimes we step into a colour and discover its value is the length of the space it fills. No matter the length of the thread, its value is integral to the overall weave and warp of our tapestry.

Like colour. To enhance green, to make it pop out, the artist adds a hint of red at its edges. To make blue sparkle, a touch of yellow. Each colour adds value to the next.

Each encounter in my life adds depth, meaning, value. I carry with me memories, lessons learned, feelings felt, ideas explored. I carry with me the touch of someone’s gentle words upon my heart, the imprint of their laughter. Their smile. Their eyes.

Every thread adds value not always seen to the one who has linked their to mine, just as I do not always see how my thread has linked to theirs.

Yet in our connection, story is made, story unfolds.

In our connection, lives are enriched, touched, changed.

May the tapestries of our lives connect and create beauty and awe with every breath.

Meanwhile, back in the studio…

   Art journal entry, August 23, 2015. Louise Gallagher

And so I come back to the studio, the canvas, the unknown, the mystical nature of creation.

I come back to my creative essence. My mystical core. My mysterious creative drive. I come back to this space where the canvas waits to be explored, to be created upon, within and with. To be seen. Known. Felt. Experienced.

To this space where I enter knowing that I must trust.

Trust in being here. Trust in being part of this sacred space. Trust in the process and in letting go of what I believe I know is true, to explore what is possible when I do not hold onto believing I know. The answer. The outcome. The end before I’ve even begun.

And I breathe.

In each breath I feel the presence of the wonder and awe of creation. And I feel fear’s presence. It nudges and pulls and grabs at me to stop. To not create. To not let my expressions become visible.  

It is true. Amidst the wonder and awe, fear is also present.

I want to run from fear. Instead, I hold my ground and greet it. Hello fear. I see you. I hear you filling my thoughts with your fear of the unknown. I hear you questionning my creative purpose, my creative voice, begging me not to express it for fear I will make a fool of myself. People will laugh at what I create. People will think of me in less than terms.

It’s okay fear. I see you. I acknowledge you. I know you. You and your compansion are part of me too. Self-doubt. Worry. Hesitation. Your constant yammering about who am I to think I have something to express. Is this really me, this artistic soul? Or am I just pretending to be the ‘me’ who creates? Who am I? What am I? How am I? Is this creative urge my trust self calling me to express itself? Explore my need, my heart’s desire to create?

I will not heed your fears. I will listen only to the expression of my creative urgings pushing and pulling at me to be released.

I must.

And so I breathe.

I breathe into the presence of fear and allow fear to breathe freely so that I can create free of fear and its companions.

And with each breath I feel the presence of wonder and awe flowing freely, filling in the spaces fear has left behind as it flew into the winds of freedom.

Wonder and awe are present. So is joy, love, contentment, bliss. So many other things are present, even in fear’s presence.

I breathe.

You are all welcome here. I do not fear you. I embrace you. You are all part of my creative process.

Like the moon needs the sun to find its light, and the sun yearns for the planets to hold their orbit around its warmth, I need all of me to be present here so that all of me can be expressed freely.

And so I breathe. And so it is.



I have been away from the studio for awhile. I have come back to its sacred space. I am so blessed.

Living the whole shebang

This morning’s TUT — A Note From the Universe, made me smile:

“Every once in a while, with gaps in time that stretch for eons, someone like you comes along who instinctively trusts their inner senses more than their physical senses, the unseen more than the seen, and whose life-insights are so piercing that they unwittingly blow the entire model of spiritual evolution to smithereens.

“Gabriel, did you register Louise Gallagher’s epiphany yesterday? Raise expectations on all human beings another 72 gigatrons, and tell not a soul.”

How do you do that?
The Universe”

It was this line in particular that got me,  “instinctively trusts their inner senses more than their physical senses”.

I find it fascinating how one line can make so much sense to me, even if I’ve heard it before, or considered it in the past and thought, “Hmmm… that makes sense. I’ll have to think about it.”

And then, an email lands in my Inbox, or I read a line somewhere or hear someone say something and it’s as if I’ve just suddenly awoken from a long nap and found the truth glaring at me in the brilliance of the sun’s light beaming down on a hot summer’s day. A truth I was blinded to because, well I just wasn’t sitting at the right angle to see beyond the sun’s glare or maybe had my attention focused somewhere else, or on someone else, and wasn’t paying attention. And then it hits me. “Oh, that’s why I am how I am in the world!”

There was a time when I didn’t trust that deep, stirring within. That quiet voice whispering truths from my soul into my mind, guiding me intuitively into being present in the world, right now, this way I am. There was a time when I didn’t trust it and rather than give into it, I fought it.

And my life was fraught with messiness. My being full of insecurities. My essence filled with anxiety.

In those days, my smile was a shield, my eyes a mirror of whomever and whatever I encountered. I used my thinking like a weapon designed to fend off any interloping thoughts that threatened to undermine whatever piece of mind I was clinging to in my efforts to feel safe, secure and like I belonged.

I had moments of happiness. Moments of joy. Moments of feeling complete, part of a greater whole, part of a world where I belonged simply because I am here.

I had moments of ‘feeling it’. I did not have complete ‘knowing of it’. Complete surrender to it.

Life is a process of taking one step after another. It is a journey of discovery. Some of it we spend in the darkness. Some we share in the light. All of the journey makes the whole thing an adventure worth living in the knowing of our true essence, our true selves, our true magnificence in this world of wonder.

meditation masters

Source: Zen Flash

We can turn up in life fearful of our magnificence, continually kicking and pushing against our true essence. We can push back, pull back, pull out of living wild and free in the ecstasy of being who we are in this moment, right now. We often do.

It doesn’t change who we are. It simply impacts how we are travelling this journey of life.

Our essence is the whole shebang. When we give into the wonder and beauty of our soul’s radiant joy shining in this moment right now, no matter how bright, dim or shadowed we feel in this moment, we come fully alive. When we surrender to the wonder of being who we are, how we are in this world, right now, we become the truth of our being human; we are capable of great kindness, compassion, humanity, love. It is the essence of our human condition.

And all we’ve got to do to experience the whole shebang is surrender. Just open our eyes and hearts and whole beings to the knowing, who we know ourselves to be right now, is just a tiny portion of our fullness in the universe, and WOW!  Aren’t we amazing just the way we are!

And so it is.