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James Hughes is an author and New Brunswick's former deputy social development minister. Image: Submitted

Solving the homelessness crisis through prevention

By Brad Perry Apr 10, 2024 | 3:17 PM

A new book is diving into the root causes of homelessness in Canada and how it can be prevented.

Ending Homelessness in Canada: The Case for Homelessness Prevention was edited by James Hughes.

A former deputy social development minister in New Brunswick, he is now the CEO of Montreal’s Old Brewery Mission, the largest organization serving homeless people in Quebec.

“The organizations across the country, like the one I run right now, we are better than we’ve ever been at treating homelessness,” said Hughes.

“But it’s not working. The numbers are still going up, despite the fact that the sector and the governments that fund them are becoming more sophisticated all the time when it comes to this issue.

“So we have to look at new ways, and the best way of reducing homelessness is to prevent it in the first place.”

Hughes and contributing authors discuss the root causes of homelessness and the practices that can be employed to end it.

Canadians from coast to coast have seen the homelessness crisis grow drastically in recent years. Hughes said one of the main factors behind the increase is the lack of affordable housing across the country.

“We’ve been losing so many units of affordable housing over the last decade. The lack of new supply coming on to replace it has meant that someone who is precariously housed has almost no option,” he said.

“They’re trying to keep their apartments in any way they possibly can. But if they lose it, their option of finding an alternative is way lower than they’ve ever been.”

At a policy level, Hughes said governments need to find ways to preserve existing affordable housing and build more supply.

Another way to help prevent homelessness, he said, is trying to identify people who are at imminent risk and help them before they end up on the streets.

“Everyone’s pointing at everybody and everyone is responsible. But I would put to you that the primary responsibility rests with the provinces,” said Hughes.

For example, said Hughes, one in five people who responded to the most recent Point-In-Time homeless count said they were in the child protection system within the last year.

He said the child protection system should be taking steps to identify kids who are at risk at discharge and make sure they do not become homeless.

The same goes for individuals being released from provincial jails and health-care facilities, said Hughes.

“There’s a whole basket full of opportunities that the provincial government has to intervene within its own institutional network to try to prevent homelessness before it even occurs,” he said.

Hughes said the main takeaway from his latest work is that preventing homelessness is something that can be done.

“It is solvable. It’s preventable. And the combination of fantastic non-profit organizations properly funded to treat homelessness when it occurs, combined with effective prevention policies and services, means we can start to see the number go down,” he said.

Hughes will be in Saint John on Friday to promote his latest work at a book launch and signing. It will take place at Outflow’s Catapult Training and Employment facility (100 Waterloo Street) from noon to 1 p.m.