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Homelessness & Advocacy for National Action

A. Homelessness - A National Disaster - announcement
B. Advocating for Change - Lessons from a Campaign
i) The Urgent Situation
ii) The Challenge
iii) Getting Organized
iv) Strategizing
.v) Communicating - using all channels
vi) Targeting Supportive Organizations
vii) Broadening the Appeal
viii) Getting The Snowball Effect
ix) The Facilitator Role - Lessons for Organizers
x) Media Advocacy - Press Strategy

B: Introduction
In previous issues of the OHPE Bulletin, we have discussed issues and campaigns, policy change, global perspectives and, to a lesser degree, advocacy, on determinants of health. There have been features on factors that determine health - food security, on social support, mental health, quality of life, on children's well-being, and access to health services. But the basics of income and housing and the lack of both, and of truly advocating and taking action on social justice issues - have not been tackled. On the health promotion e-list-serv, CLICK4HP, [see] there have been these challenges for health promoters to think about international and national issues such as free trade, the MAI, human rights and homelessness.

Cathy Crowe, a nurse working on the front-lines in downtown Toronto, has been a frequent user of CLICK4HP, as well as other lists, to call for attention to the health of people living on the street, without homes or income. In the above announcement, posted on CLICK4HP, in different stages, several times over the past two months; we have seen the development of a serious issue, that has been transformed from a Toronto crisis, to a call for recognition of the national disaster in homelessness. It is a call for all of us to pay attention to, and to think of what we can and should be doing. Cathy Crowe was asked about how this campaign was organized and how various media was used for advocacy. Her response was both complex and simple. She described each step that they had gone through, in a very comprehensive strategy, and then summed it up in the following statement:

Cathy has said in paper for Ryerson U. that "one of our responsibilities in the field is to train students in their responsibility to speak out on inequities and become politically active." The following summary of the campaign is to help us learn how to do this work.

1. The urgent situation

In a presentation to the city of Toronto committee studying homelessness, in May Cathy Crowe stated: [why homelessness is a] "disaster for the purpose of receiving emergency federal relief.

. Our committee (Toronto Disaster Relief Committee), was formed in what I now, in retrospect, consider to have been the early stage of an acute disaster. Disasters, natural or man-made, are not restricted to countries in the tropics, but their consequences are similar. In late 1995-early 1996 our committee heard evidence on the following warning signs of impending crisis: serious overcrowding of our day and overnight shelter system, a 38% tuberculosis infection rate among the homeless, clusters of freezing deaths of homeless people, a rise in overall morbidity including malnutrition and the spread of infectious diseases and a rise in the number of homeless deaths."

2. The Challenge

To get the attention of federal and provincial governments for significant policy changes - before the next winter, and not wait for Toronto focused reports from committees or task forces - but to move the issue to national attention.

On March 31,1998, came a statement of the situation of homelessness being "a disaster".
"At the last Metro Advisory Committee on Homeless and Socially Isolated Persons I [Cathy Crowe] asked for a report from staff on the process for formal declaration of Toronto as a disaster zone. In 1987, in response to a growing problem of homelessnes, former City Councillor Roger Hollander brought a motion to declare Toronto a disaster zone to council. Sadly, it failed, or we might have had an infusion of federal dollars by now for emergency shelter and housing and infrastructure."

The Toronto Star editorial on July 24, 1998, concurred with the approach that federal and provincial action was needed: "One of the biggest challenges that the mayors task force [on homelessness,
chaired by Anne Golden] faces,. will be to create the kind of public pressure that Ottawa and Queen's Park cannot afford to ignore."

3. Getting Organized

In April Cathy Crowe brought the disaster relief concept to the Advisory Committee on Homeless and Socially Isolated Persons, and then presented to various task forces and committees. The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee formed in June, with no money or resources, but a recognition that time was running out. Most of the committee members are involved in issues of homelessness from different angles as a part of their work; two people are frontline workers who face these issues every day. Those two - Cathy Crowe and Beric German, became, for the large part, the organizers of the campaign.

4. Strategizing

A similar strategy was adopted as in the Inquest of the Three Freezing Deaths in 1996. It involves:

- continual strategizing and planning;
- coalition-building;
- maintaining responsibility of individual support throughout the campaign (these issues are emotion-laden);
- building on contacts until the issue and support snowballs;
- while maintaining a high media profile through regular contact.

Two more considerations:

- Focus on what policy-makers (such as Medical Officer of Health) need to know and what specific things they can do; and
- Do not believe in failure - there are no blockages that cannot be overcome.

5. Communicating

With no funding and few donated resources, communicating and promoting the campaign is difficult, but not insurmountable. The fastest and least expensive way to reach a broad sweep of organizations? E-mail - direct to individuals, posted on e-mail lists and on bulletins like OHPE and CLICK4HP. First described in May, and followed up in June with a discussion of the impact of heat on homeless - the issue is kept alive and in the minds of readers all over the country, and the globe.

A sample of the call for a state of emergency:
"Morally, economically, socially, and legally, we cannot allow homelessness to become 'normal' in Canadian life. Inaction betrays many thousands of us to a miserable existence and harms our society for years to come."

6. Targeting Supportive Organizations
A presentation was carefully planned to hand-picked supportive organizations (ie. Street Health, Medical Reform Group) to request their support and endorsement as a first stage. Their support was immediate - looking for specific concrete actions. Some of presentation covered the points that would need to be promoted by these individuals and organizations.

It is a Disaster Now
* Crisis facilities are already overcrowded. People are ending up in the streets, parks, and alleyways
* Youth and families with children are the fastest growing population in shelters
* Major cities search far beyond their boundaries for temporary housing for homeless families
* Homeless people face poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and increased risk of violence, communicable diseases and compulsive drug use." (many more points followed)

7. Broadening the Appeal for Endorsements

With more than 40 endorsements from known supporters, and wide posting of the statement, the action moves to individual contacts who use their networks and contacts to broaden endorsements.
This is basic "Credibility Development" and it takes time and effort. Phoning & email can take at least 3 hours /day, as well as direct personal contact.

09/09/98 - the call goes out
>The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee is asking you to endorse our call to have all levels of government declare homelessness a NATIONAL DISASTER, which requires immediate, emergency, humanitarian relief.

>We are a group made up of housing experts, academics, business people, health care workers, social workers, anti-poverty activists, and the faith community. We have worked with homeless people, studied homelessness, and have watched the homeless crisis worsen daily. We have bandaged the injuries caused by being homeless and have attended the funerals of many homeless people.

>We have asked ourselves these questions: Why is this crisis not dealt with like the ice storm in Eastern Canada, or like the flooding in Manitoba? Why are governments not responding to the hundreds of homeless people's deaths? Why are they ignoring the threat of diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDs, and hepatitis which are related to people's homelessness? Why is it that common sense doesn't dictate that this is one of the largest and most serious national disasters that
Canada has ever faced?

>Our answer has been to come together and to draw up a call for Disaster Relief. The most basic human rights of a section of our community are being violated. We cannot sit idly by and let this misery and death continue - the time now is to act. We need massive and immediate government intervention.

>We appeal to you to endorse our call for action, join our committee, and/or to set up your own committee and send out a similar call.

8. Getting the Snowball effect
As part of the strategy, committee members focused on specific organizations who were needed on-side. Their endorsements lead to a "snowball effect" of mobilizing others through example.

- AIDS organizations, who had not been involved, required direct contact, going to meetings, following up with faxes, mail, phone
- Faith Communities, who had been generally supportive but not involved, were sought out by former priest with contacts in the faithcommunity;
- Community Health Centres (CHCs) were approached by a CHC executive director, with 8 endorsing the declaration
- Gaps were identified, such as labour, and had affiliated groups (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty) approach them for support, which was offered.
- Learning to criss-cross the country by phone. For example, talking with the co-ordinator of flood relief in Manitoba. These inter-provincial linkages are vital for making an impact.

9. Facilitator role - Lessons for Organizers

- Keep the planning and strategizing process going;
- Ensure that all individuals and organization members of the committees are talking to each other:
- Work on consensus building;
- Set rules for participation of people who are affected - provide TTC fares, childcare, food, ensure equity in speaking and presentation and opportunities for homeless people to be heard.

These roles of key workers required considerable amount of pre-meetings to plan and prepare on how it will be put together and what is needed.

10. Media Advocacy - Press Strategy:

Only one piece of the whole. Throughout the development of the campaign, a consistent media advocacy strategy is used:

- links to certain journalists who are kept informed and in regular contact
- not one media source gets an exclusive story
- a press release is made one day before the event
- registered letters to politicians to invite them, and ensuring that the mayor is available to receive the endorsements; and
- the event is planned to meet media needs - high profile national figure as moderator, involves wide spectrum of participants, is endorsed by many different groups, draws large participation, offers a clear story, and is a national focus rather than local only.

In summary - a campaign to make a "local issue" move to the hearts and minds of many people, and to policy and decision-makers at a national and provincial level - has required imagination, strategy, commitment, time and strength. It will be, as Cathy Crowe said, "exciting and very very hopeful".

We do not learn "how-to" do this work by any other way than doing it. Inaction betrays many thousands of us to a miserable existence and harms our society for years to come.

Submitted by Alison Stirling, in discussion with Cathy Crowe.