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Every night in Canada, 35,000 people experience homelessness. These are our neighbours, family members and friends, and the scale of the problem is increasingly hard to ignore. Recent data from Discover, Navigator’s research offering, shows that eight in ten Canadians believe homelessness has reached a crisis point.
Gas prices are excessive, groceries seem to be getting more expensive and $5 no longer goes as far as it used to at Tim Hortons. But the issue of affordability runs deeper and connects to housing in a meaningful way. Stories of young couples not being able to afford their first home and students moving back in with their parents are commonplace. The demand for change is so strong that in the general election last year, a national non-partisan campaign called ‘Vote Housing’ was launched to mobilize Canadians and rally public support to address critical housing needs. Much like climate change, there is widespread concern for the issue, but little consensus on what to do. It is far too easy to slip into a mentality that homelessness and housing insecurity will always be with us. It doesn’t have to be this way.
There is a growing chorus of voices shouting from rooftops that housing is a basic human right and to their credit, governments at all levels and politicians of all stripes are listening and acting. In fact, the current Liberal government has an aggressive national housing strategy, with a stated goal in the next 10 years of cutting chronic homelessness by 50 per cent and removing over 500,000 families from housing need.
The private sector has an opportunity and a need to follow suit. Canadians increasingly expect their business leaders to contribute to the communities they operate in – helping employees and customers build meaningful attachments and identify common values rooted in shared commitments to safer, stronger cities.
A recent survey released by the Canadian Centre for the Purpose of the Corporation, a Navigator initiative that equips businesses to make broader contributions to society, polled 500 senior executives across the country on corporate purpose. Of those surveyed, 63 per cent agreed that “The purpose of a corporation should be to benefit all stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, suppliers, the communities where it operates, and the environment.” While there are many deserving initiatives and outstanding national organizations with which to partner, nothing is more rooted in the health and security of the community – where your employees live, work and play – than homelessness intervention.
Partnering with a homeless shelter also has the added benefit of alignment with government policy and direction in a way that can prove to be mutually beneficial. We should not be embarrassed by the fact that businesses can invest in ending homelessness. It is the morally right thing to do and it can help strengthen a business’ bottom line and reputation in the community. In fact, Discover research found that over half of Canadians agree that businesses should contribute to help combat the housing crisis.
In addition to the immediate supports, such as food and bedding, there is also a growing trend among shelters to search for solutions to systematically end homelessness. This means more than investing in a safe place to sleep and eat. Increasingly agencies and shelters are focusing on skills and training, education and especially strategies to move people into housing, rather than providing stopgap, nightly solutions to homelessness. There is no need for a company to position themselves as the expert on ‘fixing’ the systemic problem. Rather, the shelters will work with experts and politicians towards this goal.
Ending homelessness is an aspirational goal that might be solvable if we all work together. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but having corporate Canada partner with government, along with the generosity of Canadian donors and well-intentioned agencies and shelters, provides a collective response to an issue that affects us all.
*Matt serves as Board Chair for the Ottawa Mission, a charity dedicated to providing all the tools people need to rebuild their lives
80% of Canadians believe our country has a crisis in homelessness.
53% agree that businesses should contribute funding to help combat the housing crisis.