Employment Greater Than Housing?

Hierarchy of NeedsThis article from CBC News Kitchener-Waterloo speaks to city councilor Sean Strickland’s suggestion that we should re-direct resources from affordable housing to a job skill match program.  His rationale is that in the context of both high social assistance case loads and job postings going unfilled, focusing more on employment than housing will push the needle from managing homelessness to ending homelessness.  Strickland also notes the downloading of housing services from the feds and the province to municipalities, at the same time as resources are less available.

I both agree and disagree with Councilor Strickland.  I do agree that the only ultimate way to end poverty is to obtain employment.  Even if one were to access every benefit possible on social assistance, including disability, it does not bring you above the poverty line.  Conversely, full-time employment at minimum wage will.  Therefore, the ultimate and solitary self-sufficient end to poverty is through gainful employment.

That said, there are a few concerns I have with proposing a shift of resources from housing to employment.  The first is that individuals experiencing homelessness are often several steps down the hierarchy of needs from gainful employment.  People experiencing concurrent addictions and mental health challenges will have difficulties being successful through an application process.  People who have been homelessness for an extended period of time also often carry their poverty in their face, and do not fair well in job interviews.  As well, the low literacy rates among people experiencing homelessness are well documented, so many are not employment ready.

The second concern I have is about playing the determinants of health off against each other, as if we must choose either employment or housing.  Employment will have populist appeal as it fits a vision of removing those undeserving off assistance off the public roll.  However, what housing first has taught us is that stable housing is a necessary prerequisite for enhancing one’s current situation.  Therefore, to expect people to obtain stable employment when they have unstable housing is not necessarily productive.  This is not to say that employment will not benefit people, it’s to say that employment cannot be considered without understanding the broader challenges faced by an individual.

2 thoughts on “Employment Greater Than Housing?

  1. I think too much emphasis is placed on affordable housing. As we saw in the news last week with a murder at one of the affordable housing buildings in London many tenants in affordable housing feel unsafe and would rather be renting market rental units if they were affordable. I’m not sure the answer is a job skills program rather I think people should be able to rent where they want and provided with a rental subsidy even if they are ineligible for affordable housing.

  2. The thinking seems to be that once people get into affordable housing that their housing dilemma is solved but there are some people who get into an affordable housing unit and within six months or less are moving out but their income has not improved. I feel the funding really needs to shift away from emergency shelters and towards housing. While emergency shelters are not jail they are still institutions that take away basic freedoms of the residents that reside there. Some of the staff that work in emergency shelters lack compassion and common sense when dealing with residents and I feel the city would be better off putting homeless people in motels than paying $47.75 a night for a homeless person to reside in a shelter where their safety is at many times at risk. Homeless people do not deserve to be woken and yelled at in the middle of the night because they are snoring as happens many times. When someone commits suicide at a shelter staff seem to keep it quiet instead of talking about the issue, When the city gives out a subsidy to only people who are eligible to be on the affordable housing I feel it is not right because there is no guarantee that in six years that will still need affordable housing. If the subsidy was offered to people not eligible for affordable housing as well maybe just maybe they would be able to obtain employment and be able to pay all of their own rent when the subsidy ended.

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