Negotiating Homelessness: Voices from Streets to Homes

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By: Prince Sibanda
Org: COSTI Immigrant Services
Date: 2008

This study explores the views of immigrants and refugees, how they negotiated theirway from homelessness.


This report sought to achieve 2 main objectives:

  1. Research the Streets to Home program as delivered by COSTI Immigrant Services to contribute to a wider understanding of future preventative initiatives that can reduce incidents of homelessness and build stronger settlement support services to a population that has compound barriers.
  2. Undertake a review of literature on the obstacles frequently encountered by refugees and immigrants in the Streets to Homes program (COSTI component) and make recommendations on how these can be used to inform policy.

The goal was to add to the body of knowledge on homelessness by focusing on the voices of the immigrants and refugees themselves; how they perceive their situation, the reasons for their flight to Canada, the stresses they face, their coping strategies and their perceptions on housing service providers in the Greater Toronto Area.

The immigrants profiled here are some of the most under-researched. Hearing their voices not only completes our understanding of their situation but also enables us to better serve their needs.

Findings and Conclusion

This study showed that homeless immigrants and refugees considered their personal experience and knowledge of their history to be an important aspect of the housing service provider’s learning which should be translated into programming. They were happy to share this knowledge and keen to emphasise the importance of having their voices heard. The challenge for housing providers and general settlement workers is to ensure that this is achieved through a continuous recognition and training of housing service providers on cultural competency.

Organisations like COSTI Immigrant Services have to be innovative in handling the needs of an increasingly different immigration and refugee population than existed three decades ago. This paper also recommends a conceptual model, built around the concept of 'ubuntu' (African philosophy of human relations) and discusses its relevance to housing research.

The paper continues with an outline of the importance of the concept of 'ubuntu' for housing researchers and concludes with some suggestions for program modifications and policy recommendations. While discussions about 'ubuntu' have been a key preoccupation of conflict resolution specialists for some decades, housing researchers have barely touched on the subject. Yet, at this juncture - a time of increasing immigration, expanding xenophobia and increasing homelessness among new immigrants and refugees in Canada - the importance of the concept of ubuntu for housing researchers must come to the fore. The literature on 'ubuntu', especially the literature which sees 'ubuntu' as a particularly significant type of rendering ‘home’, provides insight into the relationship between places and people's sense of belonging; the dynamics of confrontation with new culture in immigrant hosting countries; and the socialization of homelessness. It also points to the need for a more integrated approach to housing research that looks beyond the scale of the individual to household, to community, and to the international scale.

This report concludes that immigrant and refugee homelessness is inextricably linked to structural social forces and the reasons for their flight from their home countries, and unless these issues are addressed in service provision, housing hard-to-house immigrants and refugees will continue to be an elusive goal.

Download Negotiating Homelessness: Voices from Streets to Homes in PDF format.