Canada Without Poverty’s Leilani Farha thinks we can end homelessness

By The Globe and Mail, 21 August 2015

Sitting across from Leilani Farha at a corner table in Ottawa’s Fauna Food + Bar, I am exhausted just hearing about her work. She’s executive director of Canada Without Poverty – a think tank and advocacy group geared to the daunting task of alleviating poverty in this country. At the same time, she is also the United Nations’ current “special rapporteur” on adequate housing, a position that sees her travel around the globe and comment on key housing problems and crises. (...)

Even in a wealthy country such as Canada there are as many as four million poor people, depending on how you measure it, and 250,000 people are homeless. In less-developed countries, the numbers are staggeringly higher. (...)

One of Canada Without Poverty’s key positions is that this country needs to develop a national plan to cut poverty.

“The route to go is a national anti-poverty strategy that would include a national homelessness strategy, a national adequate-housing strategy, and a national child-care policy. That would be a big step, because it would be an admission that the federal government has a role to play, and that it has international human-rights obligations.” (...)

Specifically, a national child-care plan would be particularly helpful for poor single parents, she says, while some kind of rent-supplement system would make a huge difference for those facing sky-high housing costs.

And while many provinces and municipalities have made a firm commitment to cut poverty, and have tried some innovative approaches, few have measurable goals and timelines, or a review mechanism, she says.

She points out that poverty is enormously costly to Canada, putting an extra burden on the health-care and criminal justice systems, in addition to the huge amounts spent on homeless shelters and other supports. (...)

What’s needed the most, she says, is an awareness among policy-makers around the world that everyone is part of the human family, and that they need to have real empathy with those who are suffering. She says they need to put themselves “in the shoes of a single mom with two teenage daughters who has no bathroom. [We should] try to do policy from that place.”

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