In a separate article I have written and posted on Medium, I argue that the coming few years will present a great opportunity for governments, not-for-profit groups and everyone else to significantly reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in Canada. The emerging opportunity to fight homelessness will not be fulfilled without the involvement of a large number of passionate people. This cause needs as much help as it can get from as many people as possible. This article is essentially intended to be a somewhat casual epilogue to the Fulcrum article, providing my personal opinion on what I think could be some of the most effective ways in which people could become involved in the fight against homelessness if they are interested in doing so.
I will start off by mentioning the most obvious way in which people can get involved in the fight against homelessness: joining a not-for-profit organization that serves the homeless. These organizations do valuable work to help those in need by providing them with food, shelter, treatments, therapies and skills as well as by connecting them with other organizations that provide services that they do not. In many organizations including shelters, food banks, mobile health teams, supportive housing organizations and places of worship, there are roles to be filled both on the frontlines interacting directly with the homeless and in offices fulfilling administrative responsibilities. There are always opportunities to join these organizations in volunteer roles and sometimes even paid roles. You probably already know all of this.
Joining a not-for-profit group is a meaningful way to get involved in helping those in need, but it is not the only way to make an impact. The rest of this article discusses a few other options that I believe are not mentioned enough as ways to get involved in the fight against homelessness. This list of options is not meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive as there are countless ways to contribute to advancing the public good. These are just a few ideas of ways to get involved that could potentially be very effective at making progress if performed with skill. (Not to mention, I personally think that all of these options are cool and may potentially be very appealing to people like me who are passionate about politics, participating in politics and learning about political topics.)
1. Talk to politicians about homelessness
Make it clear to politicians that homelessness is a key political issue that is on your mind and the minds of many others around you. As I discussed in my article for The Fulcrum, housing is the defining issue in Canadian politics today. This means that practically every politician running for office at every level of government, both incumbents and challengers alike, will be promoting some kind of housing agenda over the next few years. It is important to tell them to not forget about the people experiencing homelessness in their housing platforms.
You can do this by attending events and rallies that you know politicians will be at (even if you do not support the politicians in attendance) in order to have passionate and respectful conversations with them about the issues that matter to you. You can also raise the issue of homelessness to politicians without directly meeting them by getting involved in advocacy work and/or writing to politicians. If you write to a politician, handwritten or printed letters are more attention-grabbing than emails.
Remember, politicians craft their platforms based on what they believe will appeal to as many people as possible in order to attract as many votes as they can. If politicians get the impression that many people are concerned about homelessness and want to see effective and compassionate homelessness policy reforms, this can prompt them to put a greater focus on homelessness in their campaigns and in the actions they take while in office.
2. Attempt to join government yourself
For those who want to get more directly involved in the world of homelessness policy, it is worthwhile to consider trying to join a government body by running for office, working in an elected official’s office or seeking a job as a public servant in a non-partisan government bureaucracy. All levels of government, including governments like First Nations and bodies like school boards, play some role in serving those in need by providing them with resources and connecting them with opportunities.
The local/municipal level of government tends to be the most important level in the fight against homelessness due to their closeness to the issue and their intimate understanding of their own unique local situations. By this I mean there is no one-size-fits-all solution to homelessness across Canada because each local area has a homelessness problem that is different from the homelessness problems faced by other areas. Local government is often best at understanding what their unique needs are and acting upon those needs. If you want to join a government or a government body, I would recommend giving particular consideration to your options at the local level.
Canada needs good people in office who are willing to innovate, listen to new ideas from across the community, propose and drive experiments, collaborate across ideological lines, bring together all of the relevant players and ultimately drive the fight against homelessness. You could be one of those people.
3. Educate yourself and others
The last action I would like to mention that anybody can take to get involved in the efforts to fight homelessness is to educate yourself and your friends about the issue. This is important because if knowledge of homelessness becomes more common and widespread, then this helps to make homelessness a more mainstream political issue. As I said above, if many people are concerned about homelessness and politicians catch on to this, then this can help to generate the political will needed to make change. Furthermore, if more people consume reliable information on the topic of homelessness (rather than just rhetoric), then more people can be informed enough to ask for better policies from their politicians.
There are many sources of reliable information on homelessness and the policy responses to it. The Homeless Hub is the best source of information overall because their website offers a great diversity of information for a wide range of audiences. The information that they provide includes explainers for beginners, academic studies, government reports, opinionated blog posts and profiles of local areas. Definitely check them out.
Invisible People is another popular source of information on homelessness. They tend to be good at allowing people to share their experiences with homelessness in their own words. This is what they are most famous for, particularly on YouTube where many of their videos have accumulated millions of views. They are also good at creating well-produced mini-documentaries and opinionated pieces about homelessness. The one issue I have with Invisible People is that their analysis/opinion-focused articles that use emotionally loaded language are grouped under the “News” section of their website alongside their straight news articles rather than being in their own section of the website. For example, the “News” section of the Invisible People website features the article titled “Advocates Worry Debt Ceiling Deal Could Harm Homeless People” (which uses minimally loaded language) as well as the article titled “Your Poverty is Incentivized Under Current Legislation” (which uses highly loaded language) rather than keeping the loaded articles in their own analysis/opinion section of the website. Overall, though, Invisible People is an accessible and easily-consumable source of information that people can use to better understand the homeless experience.
The last information resource that I would like to recommend to people is the coverage of homelessness from the same reputable news outlets that people already use to get the news. These outlets do not specialize in covering homelessness but their coverage of the issue can still allow people to keep up with the latest developments. In particular, CBC and APTN are two mainstream news outlets that I have noticed publish a large amount of articles and release a large amount of videos on homelessness. CBC often covers the issue at the local/municipal level while APTN covers the issue from a uniquely Indigenous-focused perspective. I recommend consuming content from these sources yourself and sharing anything you find interesting with any friends who you think may listen or may want to learn more.
If you want to contribute to making positive change and helping to fight homelessness, there are opportunities to do so waiting for you. The impact of each individual’s effort may be small, but the combined impact of many individuals’ efforts has the potential to be massive. This is why the fight against homelessness needs the involvement of as many people as possible. There is a great amount of honour and fulfillment to be felt by working to change many people’s lives for the better. That honour and fulfillment can be yours if you want. To everyone who wants to help fight homelessness through politics, government, nonprofit work and information, I say let’s do this!
Edit on 2023–09–30: The original version of this article did not feature a link to another article I wrote titled Hope Is Not Lost: Why the Next Few Years Will Create a Great Opportunity to Fight Homelessness in Canada because that article had not been written at the time. The link has since been placed in this article’s text. Also, the original version of this article said that the Hope is Not Lost article is posted in the Fulcrum when this is not true. When the Hope is Not Lost article was written, it was intended to be posted in The Fulcrum but has instead been posted on Medium. The mention of The Fulcrum has been removed accordingly.