People living in tent cities have repeatedly explained why temporary services do not meet their needs. Everyone needs a safe place to live all the time, not just six months of the year from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.
What if decision-makers listened to homeless people?
What if instead of punishing, displacing and policing people who are homeless, municipal and provincial leaders went to tent cities and other places where people are sheltering and built relationships, asked what has and hasn’t worked well in existing systems, sought advice on solutions and collaboratively developed an action plan to address immediate, short-term and longer-term issues?
What if instead of expanding temporary shelters without any input, government asked homeless people: Until there is housing that meets everyone’s needs, where is the best place for you to live?
What would best protect your safety, well-being, stability and dignity in that space?
What if government asked: When we do build housing, what are the things you need in that housing? What makes a place feel like home? Are there frequently accessed services, cultural communities, loved ones you need to live close to? Any supports that would help with feeling safe and secure in your new home?
Considering why these questions haven’t been asked is a start. Valuing homeless people’s expertise on their own lives is the first step toward a solution. Listening is not enough, but it is where we must start.