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Social problems impact many groups of people and individuals living in society. Such social issues can derive from people’s history, culture, and the process of change that affects communities in every location. In Canada, one of the most pressing social issues is homelessness – a population of people unable to afford a residence for various reasons (Gaetz, Gulliver, & Richter, 2014). Among homeless people, many are of Aboriginal descent which also constitutes a more particular social concern. The rate of homeless Indigenous people in Metro Vancouver, for example, has reached more than 30% of the total homeless population in 2017 (BCNPHA & M. Thomson Consulting, 2017). The social issue of homelessness among Native people is further complicated by the fact that this group of people experiences another type of challenge based on their ethnicity, culture, and history. The context behind Aboriginal homelessness yields various perspectives on this problem, including positive and negative views on governmental support, the recognition and avoidance of structural issues such as institutionalized racism, and a debate about the usefulness of affordable housing.
To understand why homelessness of Aboriginal people is a separate social concern, one must investigate the history of this problem and find possible underlying cultural, political, and economic issues. The status of being homeless is often perceived negatively by societies and often linked to such adverse perceptions as laziness, lack of education, poor professional skills, and other unfavorable personal characteristics (Oelke, Thurston, & Turner, 2016). Thus, homeless people face a significant amount of discrimination based on their status and financial capabilities. A similar issue is present for people who work at jobs with a minimum wage and cannot afford to live in a comfortable setting or have access to education and self-development (Ehrenreich, 2016). The existence of these issues shows how status affects people in their personal and professional lives.
In the case of Aboriginal homeless people, the society’s concern with status is also strengthened by a more extensive system of institutionalized racism that reveals itself through behaviors, attitudes, and even policies and laws. According to Gaetz et al. (2014), colonialism, tightly woven into the history of Canada, led to Indigenous people experiencing violence, institutionalized oppression, and poverty on the basis of their race. Such a significant impact affected generations and created a racial disparity between non-Aboriginal and Indigenous Canadian residents. Furthermore, it increased the difference in people’s access to healthcare, housing, employment, and education.
Urban Aboriginal homelessness also exists in the same framework of systemic oppression (Oelke et al., 2016). The intergenerational trauma mentioned above became a deciding factor for Aboriginal people’s access to economic and professional improvement. One of the examples of institutionalized discrimination is the existence of the Indian Act, first established to define the “Indian Status” and control the identity of Indigenous people (Lawrence, 2003). Bill C-31, passed in 1985, altered the harsh guidelines of the act but failed to eliminate the discrimination of Aboriginal people and Native women in particular (Collins, 2017).
The social issue of homelessness as a whole and Aboriginal homelessness, in particular, divide people according to their opinions. For example, Krajewska-Kułak et al. (2016) found that the majority of people linked homelessness to negative personal characteristics and problems in family and professional life. Avoiding work, drinking, and being unfit for the societal living were among the associations expressed by different groups of respondents (Krajewska-Kułak et al., 2016). This attitude towards homeless people also finds its way into managing the problem of Aboriginal homeless people in Vancouver. However, in this case, such negative perceptions were at some point supported by laws (such as the Indian Act) and led to a governmental level of discrimination (Lawrence, 2003). The existence of adverse receptions about homelessness still exists today which can be seen in the issue’s growing severity (BCNPHA & M. Thomson Consulting, 2017). However, this perspective is no longer represented in the media and is not considered to be a legitimate one (Howell, 2017).
Currently, such a negative view of this problem is also not condoned by the government and social institutions as can be seen in governmental plans to reduce Aboriginal homelessness (Burr, 2017). It is clear that while the situation remains critical, it is being addressed on the federal level and is not based on the negative notions described above. However, another debate arises that is directly connected to these governmental efforts to reduce the homeless population. For instance, the initiative to build affordable modular housing in Vancouver was met with criticism from different groups of people (Ferreras & Stewart, 2017). In their arguments, people mentioned that such solutions were temporary and could not lead to a stable improvement of the issue. Moreover, the speed of construction and the funding allocated to this issue were also viewed as unsatisfactory. This perspective is represented by various advocating organizations and manifested in demand for finding a different permanent solution to homelessness based on the elimination of institutional violence and discrimination in other spheres of life.
Other views, coming from people living in modular units, were different as they positively evaluated the accessibility of such housing and commented on the governmental efforts to change the situation for the better (Ferreras & Stewart, 2017). Here, the leading interest group is represented by some homeless people. It is possible that this group would not oppose further developments but is content with this initiative of the government. This perspective adheres to the governmental decision of providing housing to homeless people and is challenged by critics. For instance, the Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AHMA) responded to this program with the need to address the underlying issues of the social problem and search for a more comprehensive solution. While the organization notes that current developments may have positive outcomes on the rate of poverty, it also stresses the need to recognize people’s cultural needs and problems linked to racism and oppression (AHMA, 2016).
In my opinion, the position of such groups as AHMA is the most logical way to approach this social issue and reach the best possible outcomes for the Aboriginal homeless population. First of all, it is reasonable to ask the government to recognize the disparity between non-Aboriginal and Indigenous homeless people. The official data shows that such a difference cannot be based on coincidental events but on a deeply seeded institutional problem that affected generations of people (Oelke et al., 2016). At it is shown in Figure 1, the rate of Aboriginal people without a home or a shelter continues to grow which indicates that the issue of discrimination still exists in communities.
Moreover, while the federal initiative and the local attempt to build affordable housing is commendable, the cultural aspect of this problem remains neglected. It is necessary to analyze the issue of structural violence and eliminate racism not only from the media but also the markets, where landlords’ behavior may determine people’s success at finding a suitable house (AHMA, 2016; Oelke et al., 2016). The government should realize that housing has also be developed with some non-material aspects in mind. People receiving an ability to have a home should feel a sense of empowerment and belonging (AHMA, 2016). Thus, some further recommendations can help in solving this social problem and creating a more permanent solution that would consider political, economic, cultural, and historical factors.
First of all, it is necessary for the main stakeholders to recognize that the problem of Aboriginal homeless people is based not only on the economic situation of the market and the lack of job opportunities but also on historical discrimination, racism, and institutionalized oppression (Oelke et al., 2016). Therefore, it is essential for the state to acknowledge the scope of the problem and develop a more complex plan for its solution. The ability of Indigenous people to address this situation from a cultural perspective may help them understand the underlying reasons for their challenging position and work towards bringing equality into the process of the problem’s resolution. The acceptance of such historical details can give the authorities an opportunity to reach out to communities and help them raise self-determination and awareness about their situation. Here, collaboration and mutual understanding should be reached on the basis of full recognition of the issue.
Furthermore, a minimum quality of living conditions and a supporting network for helping individuals should be established to develop an adequate system of support. It is vital to realize that poor living conditions can negatively affect people’s well-being and lead to a plethora of other problems thus decreasing the positive effect of giving people a place to live (AHMA, 2016). People should not be pressured to live in unsuitable conditions or placed in constraints that would lead to unsuccessful attempts at integration into society. Comfortable living conditions may raise people’s self-confidence and allow them to develop a sense of purpose.
Here, the emotional approach of these recommendations may decrease the impact of intergenerational trauma and lead to future generations experiencing fewer problems with receiving education or finding a job (Collins, 2017). The local non-aboriginal communities should be educated about Native people’s history to understand their struggles and current challenges and develop a more positive perception of homelessness as an issue that does not originate from one’s laziness or unhealthy habits (Krajewska-Kułak et al., 2016). The combination of improved housing solutions and the focus on empowerment and equality can lead to the decrease in the rates of Aboriginal homeless people and lower the possibility of Indigenous people becoming a victim of discrimination.
The social issue of Aboriginal homeless people in Vancouver resembles the situation in most large cities of Canada and other countries with the history of colonialism. The rate of Indigenous people without a shelter continues to grow despite the attempts of the government to create affordable housing solutions. The problem of homelessness as a whole is affected by people’s negative perceptions and a belief that homeless people should change their lifestyle to resolve their issues. Aboriginal homeless people also encounter racism and institutionalized oppression which further escalates the problem and contributes to its severity. While the discriminatory policies established by the Canadian government during the time of colonization are becoming eliminated, their intergenerational impact continues to exist. To improve the current perspective on this issue, it is vital for the government to address its complexity and focus on cultural and historical aspects of Aboriginal homelessness.
Aboriginal Housing Management Association [AHMA]. (2016). AHMA national housing strategy recommendations. Web.
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