Elizabeth Fry

Everyone should have access to safe and affordable housing.

Each year for Elizabeth Fry Week, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) focuses on a theme to raise awareness and launch a nationwide campaign, and this year’s theme is Human Rights in Action. Elizabeth Fry Week takes place during the week leading up to Mother’s Day every year, because the majority of women who are incarcerated are mothers. When a mother is sentenced to prison, their children are also sentenced to separation.

This year’s theme is particularly important to the women we serve because many of them have to fight for their human rights on a daily basis. They fight for their right to housing, food security, not being discriminated against based on their race, protection for their gender identity & expression, access to legal counsel, accommodation for their disabilities, etc.


Co-Host: Kendra St. Cyr, Communications and Fundraising Coordinator

Co-host: Natalie Carpentier, Manager of Development and Communications

Guest: Kelly Potvin, Executive Director

Guest: Lucy Gudgeon, Manager of Residential and Housing Program

Guest: Nilani Sabanayakam, CTI Housing Worker

“Access to housing without discrimination is a really essential part to the vitality and the well being of people and communities, especially in Toronto”

As an organization we have chosen to focus our efforts on raising awareness about the right to housing for this year’s campaign. This discussion delves into the different ways that a lack of housing affects women, specifically the women we serve at Elizabeth Fry Toronto. Women often struggle to access affordable, safe and permanent housing, which puts them in situations that increases their likelihood to come into conflict with the law. Everyone has a right to housing that meets basic conditions, however many people are left homeless, couch surfing or in precarious housing situations.

On any given day over 8,700 people in Toronto are experiencing homelessness.

Having adequate housing is a basic need that is fundamental to the well being of a person. Lack of housing makes it difficult to secure employment, access health care, cope with mental health illnesses, heal from trauma, and for people that have children it can impact getting their child into schools. Women, specifically Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) are especially vulnerable to not having access to secure housing because of the racialization of poverty.

In the United Nations report The Right to Adequate Housing it states,

“Rather, the right to adequate housing covers measures that are needed to prevent homelessness, prohibit forced evictions, address discrimination, focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized groups, ensure security of tenure to all, and guarantee that everyone’s housing is adequate.”

BIPOC women face higher levels of systemic oppressions, and are more likely to experience gender-based violence, poverty, racial discrimination, homelessness, and unemployment. These inequalities directly translate to the high incarceration rates amongst BIPOC populations. Recognizing that women often come into contact with the criminal justice system due to their struggle to survive systemic oppressions highlights the need for more community supports that address accessible housing, gender-based violence, trauma, and poverty. Ensuring that women who have been in conflict with the law have access to adequate and affordable housing would also directly help lower rates of recidivism.

If you can’t find safe and affordable housing your chances of successfully reintegrating back into the community is going to be really limited.

There is an urgent need to invest more money and time into community supports and services instead of our current focus on criminalizing and incarcerating people. The average cost of incarcerating a woman in Canada is $191,843 per year, which is substantially more than it costs to provide affordable housing solutions. Similarly, homelessness in Toronto costs just over $59,000 a year per person. If Toronto were to adopt the Housing First model as outlined by The Canadian Homelessness Research Network it would cost approximately $22,000 a year to house one person. This recovery-oriented approach to ending homelessness is grounded in the belief that “Housing is not contingent upon readiness, or on ‘compliance’ (for instance, sobriety). Rather, it is a rights-based intervention rooted in the philosophy that all people deserve housing, and that adequate housing is a precondition for recovery.”

Source: Homes First

To learn more about local organizations advocating for a human rights-based approach to housing, you can visit The Right To Housing Toronto and The Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA)

The Right To Housing Toronto breaks down the specific housing issues that impact Toronto residents and provides recommendations to The City of Toronto that will help ensure more people have access to adequate housing.

CERA provides individualized services to individuals and families in Ontario who are facing discrimination and human rights violations in their housing, including education and training sessions.

Podcast also available here.

Written by: Kendra St. Cyr

Elizabeth Fry Toronto ~ 416-924-3708 ~ Toll Free 1-855-924-3708 ~ info@efrytoronto.org

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