Good afternoon, everybody.
I'd like to start by thanking the committee, and you, Mr. Chair, for inviting me to appear today.
I appreciate your time and commitment to better understanding the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our most vulnerable neighbours, specifically those who are experiencing homelessness.
At End Homelessness St. John's, we understand the dynamic interplay between the forces that create homelessness and housing instability for our most vulnerable neighbours. We recognize and accept that homelessness itself is not the issue; it's the culmination of social system breakdowns. These breakdowns, whether they be related to health, the economy, intergenerational poverty, colonization, exploitation, gender-based violence, trauma or something else, all serve as pathways into homelessness.
We also recognize that the opposite of homelessness is not just having a roof over one's head. It's having housing stability and having the resources, the skills and the confidence to maintain one's housing. More importantly, we believe that by working together and collaboratively across all levels of government, it is possible to end homelessness here in St. John's and across the country.
While many people across our community and indeed across the country continue to suffer as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing we've borne witness to is the incredible ways in which governments across all levels have come together to support our most vulnerable neighbours. Watching institutions become more agile and collaborative gives me great hope that the pathway to housing and housing stability for those experiencing homelessness can happen.
The Government of Canada's emergency response, specifically the work within Employment and Social Development Canada, and Reaching Home, under the leadership of Minister Ahmed Hussen, Parliamentary Secretary Adam Vaughan and their teams should be applauded. The emergency funding that's been allocated under Reaching Home has allowed communities like ours in St. John's to not only respond to the pandemic but also begin thinking about how we can leverage investments to enact critical systems change that will lead to more communities across Canada reducing homelessness.
During the pandemic it has become clear that the investments required to end homelessness in our community, as in many others around Canada, are needed now more than ever. The pandemic has highlighted the significant gaps that exist for our vulnerable neighbours who live on the margins. In St. John's we've seen an increase in demand for emergency shelter, an increase in demand for mental health services and an increase in demand from women experiencing violence, among a host of other social ills. What has become painfully obvious for those we hear from who work in the homeless-serving sector here is that the gaps to securing safe and affordable housing continue to widen.
Ending homelessness isn't going to be done solely by building houses. For many people who experience homelessness, ending homelessness will require that additional supports be part of any and all housing and homelessness strategies and investments.
The research undertaken across several Canadian communities over the past 10 years has demonstrated to us that those experiencing homelessness are at increased risk of morbidity and mortality; acute illness, including traumatic brain injury and vascular disease; chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer and respiratory illnesses; severe mental illness and substance abuse issues; and infectious diseases, including hepatitis C, HIV and tuberculosis.
Taken together, what the research and the voices of those working on the front lines every day across Canada show is that people experiencing homelessness often have disabilities and medical conditions that place them at greater risk of COVID-19. What we have learned during the pandemic is the importance of finding ways to work across government departments that by their very design and nature operate in isolation. Finding new solutions to long-standing social and health inequities will require a commitment from all levels of government to innovation and collaboration within and between all levels of government.
This is why for us in St. John's and across Newfoundland and Labrador, we see an opportunity to lead, with our province, interdepartmental conversations and collaborations among our income assistance programs, justice department, health and regional health authorities and our provincial housing corporation. This is all with the intention to redesign our housing and homeless-serving systems to bring about real change for our most vulnerable neighbours.
The same approach can certainly be taken with the leadership and commitment from the federal government. Investing in the federal housing advocate and the national housing council is one way to demonstrate this commitment, as is investing in better understanding the unique needs associated with urban and rural indigenous housing and homelessness across the country.
Even with those much-needed investments that have come through as part of the Government of Canada's emergency response, there's still a lot of work in front of us if we're going to plan for a second surge in the fall and beyond. We know that the system costs of homelessness cut across multiple departments, as do the cost savings when investments are aligned.
With the support and leadership of the federal government, we see an opportunity for a concerted effort to ensure that community entities, like ours at End Homelessness St. John's, are working very collaboratively with our provincial governments and the federal government to maximize the investments and align the funding across and between the national housing strategy and Reaching Home.
I'd like to see all the departments within the federal government that have a housing, homelessness and health mandate, in fact, all departments with a social policy mandate, work collaboratively to ensure investments are aligned and contribute to housing stability and ending homelessness.
Of course, any continued investments into housing and homelessness prevention should be part of a post-pandemic relief package. The reasons for this are many, but three important ones would be that any investments in housing will accelerate an economic recovery through much-needed job creation; aligning investments will save money as we find ways to [Technical difficulty—Editor] homelessness and into housing; and more importantly, will save lives at the community level.
I'd like to thank you again for inviting me to appear today. I look forward to our discussion.