As social work students, we are addressing you today to emphasize concerns that have been determined through the completion of our research study entitled “Hidden Faces of Poverty: A Qualitative Research Study Exploring the Barriers to Accessing Affordable Housing in Fredericton, New Brunswick.”
Whilst completing our social action placement investigating the current state of affordable housing and homelessness in the city, we had the opportunity to conduct 19 community stakeholder consultations, which comprised of numerous interest groups. These perspectives included academic, non-profit organizations, political representatives, private developers, and government/health officials. Following the completion of these consultations, a final report and corresponding recommendations were articulated.
Although a range of barriers and needs were identified, community perceptions were a particularly prevalent impediment. Thus, we are writing this letter with the intention of highlighting how we, as a community, can improve to better serve these marginalized populations.
According to Canada Without Poverty, 20 per cent of people living in Fredericton are precariously housed, which equates to approximately 11,822 people. The term precarious housing refers to those currently facing housing and financial situations that are inadequate; they often face unpredictable circumstances that could ultimately make them homeless at any moment. Despite this concerning reality, there appears to be a lack of education and awareness surrounding this issue at the community level.
Addressing housing as a human right is an ample first step in altering community perceptions. In a recent panel hosted by the NB Media Co-op entitled Housing in the Time of Coronavirus, panelist Asaf Rashid highlighted this concept as a prerequisite for meaningful social change. Rashid affirmed that there is a lack of recognition of the right to housing in New Brunswick as it is often treated as a possession that an individual earns or deserves. If we truly want to change the current system, the obvious place to start is the acknowledgment of basic human rights and necessities.
A human rights approach to housing is a long-overdue change to how we currently operate as a society. Article 25(1) of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care.” The question remains, why are Canadians not more appalled by this human rights violation, as they have been with others throughout history?
Pressing social issues became increasingly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, largely due to the unsafe circumstances facing those without housing around the country. On April 3rd, 2020, Nova Scotia’s Premier Stephen MacNeil addressed his citizens in a press conference, stating “We don’t need online graphs to tell us what we need to do. We need to stay the blazes home.” This phrase caught traction within the Maritime Provinces, as our daily lives became consumed with the push to remain in the home, wait out the virus, and avoid unnecessary outings.
However, for many of the homeless and precariously housed populations, this was not an option. As Canadians closed their doors to protect themselves and one another, they neglected to acknowledge the country’s most vulnerable. This was made evident by many news articles that highlighted the detrimental impacts of COVID-19 on homeless and precariously housed Canadians.
As a result of the enforced restrictions ‑physical distancing and required personal protective equipment, there was a decrease in the availability of shelter beds and corresponding support services for these populations. This has not only impacted the physical health of these individuals but also their mental well-being. Due to the communal nature of homelessness, these restrictions have also increased potential social isolation by impairing interpersonal relationships.
In addition to framing adequate housing as a human right, the implementation of a “Yes in My Backyard” ideology is another critical area that needs improvement. Currently, NIMBYism or “Not in My Backyard” beliefs are working to prevent the development of any significant social change surrounding affordable housing and homelessness in the city of Fredericton.
NIMBYism is rooted in the belief that affordable housing developments negatively impact the character and property value of specific neighborhoods. This is an idea that is primarily based on stigmatized assumptions and stereotypes. While completing our research study, one participant mentioned the recent relocation of the Out of the Cold Shelter from Brunswick St. to Prospect St., stating that “there have been a number of social media posts about people complaining because they’ve now moved the Out of the Cold Shelter to the Fredericton High School, posts about the nature of Prospect St. changing because there are now some homeless folks hanging around.”
Through our research, we have discovered that progress cannot truly begin until all members of society are willing to change how they view and understand the unique circumstances of those living precariously housed or homeless. The belief that some deserve a place to live over others is outdated and unjust.
Twelve recommendations were developed in total to encourage all levels of government to promote a human rights lens on these social issues while utilizing the social determinants of health. Two issues in particular would be of greatest effect: Individual stigma and social isolation and NIMBYism.
Individual stigma and social isolation: Encourage all relevant stakeholders to acknowledge the intersecting factors influencing these social issues and challenge presently existing biases and misconceptions contributing to the marginalization of these populations.
NIMBYism: Encourage the community of Fredericton to adopt a ‘Yes in My Back Yard’ attitude by enhancing education and awareness regarding these social issues.
We encourage the community of Fredericton to acknowledge and challenge current prejudices surrounding the issues of housing and homelessness and advocate for the rights and well-being of all citizens. A communal push is required to initiate the prioritization of these changes by policy-makers and state officials.
Lisa Hanke and Katie Jessome are social work students at St. Thomas University.