Left 'Out in the Cold': The 'Socially-Excluded' Homeless in Canada
It seems self-evident to assert that the Homeless represent a "socially-excluded" group in Canadian society, however, an examination of the relevant literature suggests that housing status is an all too frequently neglected concept. This presentation will examine homelessness in relation to social exclusion. Social exclusion discourse, relatively new in Europe, and barely audible in Canada, has come to rely on the importance of labour market participation; adopting the mantra that 'integration' into the market equals 'inclusion' in society. This presentation will argue that housing status is a critical element absent from the discourse. Few have addressed that those living without shelter and in precarious shelter existences (this definition of homelessness will be used here) are 'socially excluded'. Current debates in social exclusion focus on those deemed 'unproductive', i.e. unemployed, while they fail to mention that those living without adequate housing should be equally considered.
It is a ripe time for housing status to be made one of the central tenets of social exclusion, as many European Union agencies use the term widely and are searching for measurement tools and analysis to define it. Social exclusion has the potential to reach beyond the hegemony of a labour market analysis. It also has the ability to reflect relational aspects of exclusion, freeing the processes of marginalisation from the distributional mud of poverty. However, one of the necessary ingredients of inclusion has been forgotten. Housing is a central piece in weaving the social fabric. Social exclusion must unearth the processes that lead to a lack of adequate housing, and the necessary disenfranchisement that this creates. The current focus of exclusion on consumption and production provides the economic reflection in relation to employment, but fails to capture more complex social processes leading to isolation and marginalisation. It negates the challenges homeless people face in exercising their citizenship rights and in gaining social legitimacy.
This presentation will: discuss the rise of social exclusion discourse; compare and contrast the concept of social exclusion versus poverty; argue that social exclusion better captures the processes of marginalisation; and, advocate for a broadening of social exclusion discourse, so as to encompass housing status, due to the limitations of an emphasis on labour market 'inclusion.' While there is a dearth of literature in relation to the homeless and social exclusion, I will attempt to prove that housing status is a crucial pillar in building a "socially-inclusive" society.
Sue-Ann MacDonald, is a PhD Candidate in Social Work in the joint bilingual program at Université de Montréal and McGill University. She also works as a Social Worker on an Outreach Team that serves the Homeless. Having completed her M.S.W. at the University of Toronto in 2000, she has worked in homeless communities in downtown Toronto and Ottawa. She is currently steering her PhD research toward an examination of the nature of victimization among homeless youth, and is passionately concerned with the building of 'socially-inclusive' societies.
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