Bearing Witness To The End Of An Honourable Life

The image shows the words 'In Memoriam'

A warning to readers. This post might be a bit of a downer. Being the middle of winter and all, it’s a time when tough stuff can be particularly hard to take. But when an eviction notice drives someone to suicide, we at decided that winter and depression notwithstanding, this is a story that deserves attention.

Andrew Tung and Kendall Fraser write in The Tyee about their colleague Christy, who had faced hurdle after hurdle and left homelessness behind. Then came the eviction notice. Christy committed suicide.

The notice could be seen as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. But that would be ignoring the systems and policies in Canada that allowed Christy to become homeless in the first place and made it very, very challenging to become ‘unhomeless.’

And we need to remember that systems and policies don’t just happen: people create them and people implement them. Having become unhomeless herself, Christy was working with Andrew, Kendall and others to change those policies. You can read more about Christy and her life at The Tyee: For Christy, Who Lived Fiercely and Died Precariously

Lifting up the wisdom of people with experience of homelessness is one way to continue Christy’s courage.

Here’s an example. Crisis is a charity in England that advocates to government for changes to policies and programs that shape people’s experience of homelessness. The foundation for Crisis advocacy is people’s experience. Crisis knows that experience because it helps people to leave homelessness. It also knows about that experience because it interviewed thousands of people who had accessed homelessness services. The interviews took place over four years following new legislation to change homelessness services. The legislation, which was passed in 2018, had three goals:

    • preventing homelessness
    • making services accessible to people experiencing homelessness
    • offering housing options to people experiencing homelessness, within specified timelines

Following the interviews, Crisis is well able to speak about how the legislation is meeting its goals. Since the legislation was passed, more effort has gone into preventing homelessness. More people are able to access services. The timelines to deliver services are being met.

The Crisis interviews also draw attention to a gap in housing options. More than 70% of the people interviewed said permanent, safe and affordable housing was the best option for their situation. Yet, many of people interviewed have been assisted to access the only option available, which is temporary accommodation.

As the name suggests, temporary isn’t permanent. The interviews report other reasons why temporary accommodation isn’t suitable, including high rents, crowded spaces and no space to cook. One of the people who was interviewed for the report commented, “I hoped there would be more options.”

In this report, people with experience of homelessness said loud and clear that more permanent, safe and affordable accommodation is needed. Crisis has strong evidence to advocate for more social rent housing. Read much more about the wisdom arising from experiences of homelessness collected by Crisis: ‘I hoped there’d be more options’ Experiences of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2018-2021