Report of the National Anti–Poverty Organization • May 2004
V o i c e s :
W om en ,P ov er t y a n d H om el e s s n e s s i n C a n a d a
ounded in 1971, as a result of the Poor People’s Conference held in Toronto, the National Anti- Poverty Organization (NAPO) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization representing the inter-ests of low-income people in Canada. Currently funded by both Human Resources Development Canada and individual contributions, a twenty-two person board made up of of people (who either live inor have lived in poverty as some point in their lives) from every province and territory in Canada governs thework of the organization. NAPO assists local and regional organizations of low–income people in Canadato comment on processes in their communities and to help these organizations influence the national debatein which NAPO has an active interest. To this end, NAPO produces reports, fact sheets and press statementsand sponsors court challenges. A network of anti-poverty activists, academics and social policy experts servesas a resource for NAPO.In the 1970s, NAPO focused on issues such as telephone rates, tax rebates, veteran’s allowancesand old age pensions. In the 1980s, family allowances, social assistance, medicare, pension reform and changes to un/employment insurance were front issues. The 1990s brought forward concerns about unem- ployment insurance, the gap between the rich and the poor, affordable housing, the rise of food banks and the inadequacy of welfare rates. In 1995, NAPO was invited to and attended the National Workshop whichwas searching for a methodology of counting and studying the homelessness in Canada.NAPO decided at the conclusion of this workshop that there was a need for basic descriptive infor-mation about those who are homeless from the perspective of those who were participants in anti-poverty advocacy. In 1998, NAPO submitted a brief to the United Nations entitled “A Human Rights Meltdown inCanada”. It specifically included statements on housing and homelessness by addressing Article 11 of theU.N. Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This is the Article which notes the right of everyoneto an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuousimprovement of living conditions.In 1998, NAPO also applied for a seed grant from the National Network on Environments and Women’s Health to assist in developing a proposal for a study on women and homelessness. As result of thisapplication, Suzanne Lenon prepared a short article on behalf of NAPO called “Living on the Edge: Womenand Homelessness in Canada”. The NAPO position was that the housing crisis in Canada was not only aviolation of human rights, it was a manifestation of a wider structure of disadvantage and exclusion. Globalcompetition favors the accumulation of wealth by the rich. Lenon noted that the sexual division of labour is part of the gender imbalance of power in society and that homelessness is not resolved for women by having a roof over her head unless this roof is accompanied by a sense of safety and security.Race as a determinant of homelessness, she further argued, is, unfortunately, missing from the public debate. Skin colour matters and is particularly apparent in the findings of the late 1990s that 80-90%of Aboriginal female lone parents in urban areas live below the poverty line without adequate housing.NAPO published a fact sheet noting definitions of homelessness that lead, by conservative esti-mates, to figures of over 200,000 people in Canada who are homeless. The accompanying fact sheet noted that a) homelessness is a direct result of poverty and a lack of affordable housing, b) mental illness and addiction exacerbate issues such as loss of housing and poverty, and c) youth, families and women are thefastest growing groups in the homeless and at-risk population. In 2000, NAPO’s priorities became court challenges to panhandling by–laws. NAPO also applied for a grant to sponsor a research study to create public knowledge about homelessness among women from the point of view of women who are homeless.“Voices from the Margins” is the project that was its result.