I spoke at GlobalFest Human Rights Forum, an annual one week forum on Human Rights issues presented by UNA Canada, Calgary Branch.
It was the kick-off event. The subject matter for the evening was, Shelter.
One of the questions everyone was asked to consider was, Is housing a right?
Harvey Voogd, one of the presenters, spoke of how Medicaid was once not part of our Canadian landscape. How it wasn’t universally available. And now it is. Now, we don’t even question its necessity in the lives of all Canadians.
That’s the future I see for housing, he said.
I hope he’s right.
Imagine that future.
A future where every Canadian has access to safe, secure and affordable housing that meets their cultural, spiritual, physical and everyday needs.
Housing that is not insecure.
What an amazing future that would be.
I think about what we see today at the shelter where I work and in shelters across this country. Housing insecurity, like food insecurity, income insecurity, is debilitating. The energy needed to chase after resources to keep your family housed is exhausting.
For families in housing insecurity, getting ahead doesn’t mean going back to school or starting your own business, or getting a promotion.
It means juggling priorities like food on the table and school supplies for your kids with the need to keep a roof over their head.
It means having to decide between sending your child to school with a lunch, or having dinner on the table for when they come home.
It means not insuring your possessions to be able to afford bus fare for the month or gas in your car to get to your job on the other side of the city where public transit doesn’t run, or takes two hours each way to get there.
It means having to rely on neighbours and family for childcare and after school-care or perhaps leaving your children at home alone because you’re on the bus trying to get to, or from, a job that just pays enough to cover the rent.
Housing insecurity does not come with peace of mind or breathing room in your bank account in case of an emergency.
It does not include room to send your child to a tutoring program to help strengthen their math or language skills in school.
And it definitely doesn’t come with room to take them to the Zoo or a movie or the Science Centre where you can spend time together, learning and growing and laughing and playing being a family.
Housing insecurity is a constant struggle to make distant ends of a stretched thin bottomline expand to meet monthly commitments that never seem to be completely balanced.
Housing insecurity makes life hard. It makes it difficult to dream and believe you can make your dreams come true.
Housing insecurity is something parents try desperately to hide from their children. But when housing insecurity turns into homelessness, there is no more hiding. No more trying to pretend it’s not happening.
For children, the reality of housing insecurity turned into the loss of the home they knew can be terrifying. Horrific.
For children, housing insecurity that brings them to a family emergency shelter is not a ‘holiday’ or a camping trip as some parents desperately try to sell the notion of being in shelter to their children. It is a complete disruption of their daily lives, their sense of belonging, their need for security.
Housing is a right.
And every child needs it. Deserves it. Must have it to be able to learn and grow and develop their minds so that when they grow up, housing insecurity isn’t a part of their journey.
One day, I hope we get to a future where the right of every child to a safe home is a reality.
There are five more events scheduled for GlobalFest Human Rights Forum. Click HERE for info.