This is the Halifax Examiner’s November subscription drive. Typically, in this space I give you a little story that explains why you should subscribe, but today I spent all my morning writing the essay below on the homelessness industry, so no time for a little story, alas.
That said, my colleagues tell me this serves as an example of why you should subscribe, so please consider subscribing. Thanks!
1. The Homelessness industry is booming
On the housing front, we have failed on every front. Rents are increasing at alarming rates. Thanks to boneheaded monetary policy and a government that refuses to meaningfully fund public housing, construction of new units is down, and the new housing that is built is mostly targeted at the high end of the market.
And the number of homeless people is skyrocketing. No one likes that our parks have been turned into tent cities, but most of us recognize that this reflects a societal failure, so the old attitudes of blaming the homeless for their situation has shifted to an understanding that people living rough have no other option.
Just two years ago, dozens of baton-wielding and pepper-spraying Halifax cops descended on homeless encampments in parks and violently evicted the residents. Now, the very same parks are full of tents, including a dozen or so at Grand Parade, right in front of City Hall. Thankfully, we no longer lash out violently at the victims of our own shameful societal failure.
In record numbers, people can’t find a place to live. But the homelessness industry is booming.
By the “homelessness industry” I mean the army of non-profits, consultants, data collectors, government bureaucrats, policy wonks, and academics whose stated goal is to “end homelessness” but who have utterly failed. And the more the homelessness industry fails, the more it succeeds. There’s big money to be made by failing to end homelessness.
Consider the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness conference now being held at the Halifax Convention Centre.
“Homelessness is an urgent and growing problem in communities across the country, but we also know it is solvable,” said Tim Richter, President and CEO of the CAEH said in a press release announcing the conference. “The fact that we’re expecting a record attendance of over 1,600 participants from across the country tells me there’s a real hunger for solutions out there.”
A hunger for solutions, eh?
We could, you know, build some damn housing.
It’s a straightforward proposition: use the financing and taxing power of government to build and manage lots of affordable housing for people in need. We’ve done this before. We did it for military housing during the various wars. We did it for returning GIs. We did it in the 1960s and 1970s with housing projects like Mulgrave Park and Uniacke Square, which to this day meet a need for people who would otherwise be joining the others out on the streets.
But instead of the straightforward solution of building some damn housing, we’ve built this Rube Goldberg machine of market incentives, tax rebates, grants to non-profits, means testing, bonus density, ever-shifting definitions of “affordable housing” that time out after a couple of decades in any event, and a caring industry created to address the result and not the cause.
There are so many wheels and levers in this complex machine that it’s no surprise that at every inflection point there’s an opportunity for someone to insert themselves and make the machine even more complex.
Consider Tim Richter, the CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.
Richter was the Director of Government Relations —a lobbyist — for TransAlta, a Calgary-based power company. Naturally, that lobbying expertise translates well to the homelessness industry, which is dependent in large part on securing government grants.
Richter left TransAlta in 2007 to join the Calgary Homeless Foundation and then in 2012 started the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH). As CEO he is well-compensated. According to the organization’s tax returns, his salary is between $250,000 and $300,000. (By comparison, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage and Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston are each paid about $190,000.)
There are additionally two CAEH employees with salaries of between $120,000 and $160,000, and seven employees with salaries between $80,000 and $120,000.
Is it rude to bring up Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness employees’ pay? Maybe. But I wouldn’t do it if they actually, you know, ended homelessness. Instead, by every measure, homelessness is the exact opposite of being ended. Peter Principle, I guess.
There’s something perverse about celebrating a record number of people attending the conference. It’s doubly perverse when you consider the conference registration fees of $805 per person, plus HST.
Oh, but CAEH assures that it “has provided substantially discounted and subsidized registration fees to make the conference as accessible as possible for individuals with lived experience” — they’re only being charged $350 each, plus HST.
I was tempted to head out to Grand Parade to offer the tent dwellers $350 to attend the conference, but even if I had that kind of cash lying around, I wouldn’t be so insulting.
Undoubtedly, very few if any of the conference attendees are paying the registration fee out of pocket; rather, their respective non-profits, universities, and government agencies are footing the bill for attendance, adding yet more cogs and wheels and grant writers to the Rube Goldberg machine.
The CAEH is very, very good at obtaining grants. Richter has put his lobbying expertise to good use. In the most recent 12-month reporting period, he has listed 39 separate lobbying contacts with federal officials. Last year, the CAEH received $1,522,079 in grants from the federal government, $540,832 from provincial and territorial governments, and $329,359 from other registered charities. Along with membership fees ($83,750), its own fundraising ($760,511), sales of services ($1,118,994) and some incidentals, it had total revenues of $4,408,177.
Where’d that money go?
More than half of it ($2,511,225) went to salaries, and more than a quarter ($1,321,202) went to conferences. A whopping $345,008 went to professional and consulting fees.
This is the part of the Rube Goldberg machine where the toucan jumps for the cracker.
A short digression. In 2013, the newly elected Mayor Mike Savage joined the United Way Partnership on Affordable Housing, and there was an all-day conference over at the Four Points hotel. I went as a reporter, and I found the gathering refreshingly honest. It was a group of earnest people trying to do right by the homeless. If anything, the dingy and too-small conference room underscored the group’s desire to get away from splashy events and instead roll up their sleeves and get the job done.
Savage said the group was dedicated to “ending homelessness in five years.” He meant it. They meant it. Speaker after speaker underscored that it was not only possible but immensely do-able to have a 2018 Halifax with not a single homeless person.
They would do this by adopting the Housing First approach. It was a recognition that whatever other problems homeless people might be facing — health problems, addictions, mental health issues, employment, etc. — could best be addressed by first giving people a place to live. That was true then, and it’s true now.
So what happened? Why wasn’t homelessness ended by 2018?
Well, the good intentions of the United Way Partnership on Affordable Housing in 2013, or for that matter the good intentions of the attendees at the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness conference in 2023, simply don’t matter in a political and economic order designed to further enrich the already wealthy.
The problem is not one of intentions. The problem is political.
Focusing on the Rube Goldberg machinations of the homelessness industry instead of on just building some damn housing already is exactly the distracting rhetoric needed to prevent the government from spending the substantial amount of real money to honestly address the housing shortage.
Four million dollars and change to the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness is nothing compared to the multi-billion dollar government expenditure needed to solve the problem.
Additionally, that four million dollars and change, and all the rest of the pennies thrown to other aspects of the homelessness industry — the non-profits, the academics, the sociologists, the drug counsellors, the data collectors and on and on and on — create a managerial class buy-in for the Rube Goldberg machine, rather than for solving the problem.
To his credit, Savage is still talking about the need for building housing, rather than simply managing the crisis of not building housing. “As a wealthy nation we can, and we must, meet the demand to dramatically increase the supply of housing across the broad spectrum of affordability,” he writes in the conference program.
But at this point, that feels like a sop, empty rhetoric.
We could identify four sessions at the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness conference that sort of, obliquely, address the need to actually build housing. One is a panel discussing population growth in Halifax and the impacts on housing. A second discusses Housing First for Veterans. A third is the Atlantic Caucus maybe? talking about building new housing. And the fourth is the CMHC talking about its “toolbox” for funding affordable housing projects.
The rest of the sessions, not so much.
There are sessions on: youth; data collection (lots of data collection sessions); the rights of gender-diverse people; “system transformation and performance management”; the importance of getting homeless people to tell you how much it sucks to be homeless; ending the criminalization of homeless encampments; talking with Indigenous people; business improvement districts dealing with homeless people; “mapping progress”; how to talk with government; bringing health services to homeless people; caring for the people caring for the homeless; animal welfare; gender-based violence and homelessness; philanthropy; NIMBYism; libraries and homelessness; African Nova Scotians and homelessness; people getting evicted from homeless shelters; supports for people so they don’t get evicted from their apartments; landlord engagement; climate change and homelessness.
Look, most of that is important, although I have to laugh at “mapping progress” as the homeless population goes through the stratosphere, but I guess we’re counting them better and better with all our data collection tools.
Isn’t it obvious that of course those most affected by the housing shortage will be those who are already most marginalized? This feels like a bunch of people going around mopping up the flooding basement while no one is closing the window that’s letting the rain in as the water gets deeper and deeper.
Yes, helping the homeless is imperative, and a caring society will seek to understand the sociology of homelessness.
But consider what’s happening. There is a political and economic problem — there isn’t enough housing and the government won’t build enough to meet the need. But instead of addressing that head-on, homelessness is being pathologized — the homeless are gender-diverse, or young, or queer, or Black, or Indigenous, or have animals, and we have to take care of all that stuff.
I’m certain it’s not the intention, but the overall message is that homelessness is the fault of the homeless themselves, and not at heart a political problem.
Oh well, there’s good money to be made from the enterprise, if you position yourself at the top of the homelessness industry. It’s sadly ironic, however, that as in most industries, those who do the actual work are poorly paid and are themselves at risk of homelessness.
I think if I headed an organization whose stated reason for existence is to “end homelessness,” so much so that “end homelessness” is put right in the name of the organization, in the face of soaring homelessness, I’d be… well, I guess I’d be looking for more grant money.
2. Shingles vaccine
“Imagine contracting an illness that frequently causes prolonged and debilitating nerve pain that lasts for more than 90 days,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:
Although there are limited treatment options to ease the intense pain, you learn — too late — that there’s a highly effective, safe strategy that could’ve prevented it from happening in the first place.
This is something Bill VanGorder has heard from many of his fellow Nova Scotians, and he wants to ensure those 50 and older know there’s a highly effective vaccine available.
African Descent Advisory Committee (Thursday, 6pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Landing and online) — agenda
Legislature sits (Thursday, 1pm, Province House and online) — agenda
Legislature sits (Friday, 9am, Province House and online) — watch it here
Synaptic Signaling in Memory and Chronic Pain-Related Disorders (Thursday, 12pm, online) — Kimberley Tolias from Baylor College of Medicine will talk
Woodwinds Noon Hour (Friday, 11:45am, Strug Concert Hall) — selections from students’ repertoire
Bruce Earhard Memorial Lecture / Undergraduate Awards Day 2023 (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 5260, Life Sciences Centre) — Martin Ruck from City University of New York will talk
“I am neither”: Lewis H. Douglass and Racial Categories at the Origin of Electronic Data Processing(Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, McCain Building and online) — Aaron S. Wright will talk
Medicine Bag Beading (Thursday, 5pm, Treaty Space Gallery, 1107 Marginal Road) — more info on the workshop here
Climate Change: Resilience and Adaptations of Deaf Communities (Friday, 10am, Atrium 216 and online) — Caroline Solomon will talk; from the listing:
This presentation will begin with an overview of different frameworks for including people with disabilities, especially the deaf community, in disaster risk reduction and emergency planning. Case studies and testimonials of what deaf people experience during different natural disasters will set the stage for what the gaps are and what deaf people need to do to be resilient and change agents.
In the harbour
10:00: Maria S. Merian, research/survey vessel arrives at Berth 9 from Ponta Delgada, Portugal
10:30: Acadian, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil Woodside for sea
11:30: One Swan, container ship (145,407 tonnes), sails from Pier 42 for Suez Canal
12:15: Nolhan Ava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 31 from Saint Pierre
14:00: Maryam D, bulker, sails from Pier 28 for sea
15:30: Silver Shadow, cruise ship with up to 466 passengers, sails from Pier 22 for sea
15:30: One Apus, container ship, arrives at Pier 32 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
15:30: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for Antwerp
16:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Fairview Cove to Anchorage 7
16:00: Contship Pep, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York City
No ship traffic
I expect I’ll get a lot of hate mail today.