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Editor's introduction.

In the twenty-five years since Canadians began to experience results of withdrawal of social housing programs at federal and provincial levels, we have seen an upsurge in the number of persons who are now numbered among the homeless. In a country of 34 million, we now spend between $3 billion and $6 billion dollars annually on a variety of supports and services for the estimated 150,000 to 300,000 persons on the streets in Canada. Our lack of adequate research supports to date has made these prevalence figures best estimates extrapolated from regional studies. While homelessness is now generally recognized to consist of structural factors related to housing affordability and social supports provided by various levels of government, individual factors influences by ethnicity, education, vocational preparation, problems with substance abuse, mental health, trauma related experiences and a myriad of other factors all contribute to the development and prolongation of homelessness for significant numbers of Canadians in all locations. While this mirrors trends towards increased numbers of un-housed and marginally housed persons in other countries, Canadian geography social policy and social organization suggest that responses to problems of homelessness recognize the specific and at times unique context of Canadian life.

In recognition of the need to develop Canadian answers to homeless the second national conference on homelessness in Canada: Growing Home--brought together over 700 persons to examine this most urgent problem. Those assembled reflected the vast spectrum of stakeholders concerned with this issue and its effects on individuals, communities and society: those who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness, their families, policy analysts, political activists, politicians, professionals, scholars, those in the affordable housing community, and concerned citizens generally. Participants reflected the spectrum of Canadian society and represented all of the provinces and territories. This assembly heard of 140 presentations on various aspects of policies, practices and problems in finding solutions to housing, re-housing and maintaining housing for diverse groups affected by shelter instability. A select sample of this discourse is presented in this special edition.

Homelessness is no longer viewed as a terminal problem, an end result, for those with individual pathologies. It is seen as a state that has antecedents and also produces its own set of additional social problems. Poor health has become recognized as a significant threat for homeless persons and two articles examine aspects of health status and care. This first, by Nicholson, Graham, Emery, Waegemakers Schiff, Tanescu and Giacomin examines the burden of disease carried by absolutely homeless persons and notes that this is far higher than the general population. In the context of universal health care, poor health status for this vulnerable population defies national expectations of equality for all. Harris Ali contributes to this critical examination of health care challenges with a review of the challenges in treating chronic disease that are created by the mobility of homeless persons. Ali's contribution is especially critical in the light of any threats of pandemic illness that could face homeless services providers and society as a whole.

Various aspects of re-housing, the challenge of finding acceptable and effective solutions for a diverse population, is the focus of the next set of articles. Waegemakers Schiff, Schiff and Schneider provide a critical review of housing programs and approaches for persons with disabling mental illness with and without addiction. They note that Canadian acceptance of a diverse society includes acceptance of subpopulations who have significant and unique needs that are unaccounted for in housing research: those who are "hard to house" because of severe functional impairments, the elderly, those of Aboriginal or non-Western (European) ethnic origin, and people in small town, northern and rural settings. Next, Nemiroff, Aubry, Klodawsky provide research data on a model to explain factors contributing to becoming housed for women have experienced homelessness and note that both structural and personal factors need to be considered. The final set of papers details elements of program location in shelters serving diverse populations. Kuzmak and Muller explore the impact of various local bylaws in the siting homeless shelters in Calgary. A final article by Walsh, Shier and Graham puts an international perspective on the importance of local community engagement for the development and provision of youth shelter and support services.

The scope and authorship of these contributions highlights the interdisciplinary nature of this special issue and underscores the important contributions that scholars, especially those who bring theory to the table. The special edition guest editors would like to thank Dr. Marc Vachon and his team for helpful guidance at all stages in our process; to Michael Shier and Heath McLeod for leadership of the management of the copy editing of our special edition; to Sarah Meagher who provided many months of leadership to the management of the special edition review and author submission processes; and to the authors, communities, and funders who were involved in the resulting dissemination.

This special edition provides ample evidence that issues of public policy such as homelessness scholars can benefit enormously from this research. The work of Canadian researchers may further contributions unique to the Canadian social fabric and contribute to a diverse international perspective on homelessness issues and solutions. May the present special edition fertilize these prospects and above all else, may they foster understanding of, and efforts to eradicate one of the most significant social problems of our time.

John R. Graham, Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff and Christine A. Walsh

Faculty of Social Work

University of Calgary
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Author:Graham, John R.
Publication:Canadian Journal of Urban Research
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Dec 22, 2010
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