Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of having safe and adequate housing. Having a safe home is not only a fundamental human right, it is also a key determinant of health. Yet when it comes to vulnerable older Canadians, there are a number of alarming policy gaps in existing efforts to address their unique housing needs and concerns.
Canada’s first National Housing Strategy, released in 2017, promises to address disparities in housing, particularly in relation to housing affordability and homelessness. The strategy is aimed at addressing key housing disparities among vulnerable populations across Canada.
However, the strategy lacks a direct focus where we have yet to see improvements for many vulnerable Canadians, specifically older LGBTQ+ populations. This issue is of significance to Canadians given the 10-year, $55-billion investment associated with the National Housing Strategy.
As part of a national housing project, our team collected data from a variety of sources, including an online survey and focus groups with older LGBTQ+ Canadians and housing providers, as well as a scoping review of existing housing policies and programs. We found three key policy and programming issues that require greater attention under the National Housing Strategy.
The lack of population-level data on LGBTQ+ Canadians, including their health and housing needs.
The need for meaningful engagement with older LGBTQ+ Canadians in relation to housing policies and programs.
The failure to regulate and enforce existing human rights legislation in relation to the right to housing.
It is important to remember that the baby boomer generation of LGBTQ+ Canadians (those born between 1946 and 1964) are the same generation that had to fight for their basic human rights and freedoms. Despite recent advances to human rights protections for LGBTQ+ Canadians, many are now experiencing challenges in meeting their housing and health needs in old age. The reasons for this stem, in part, from a long history of discrimination, harassment and violence against LGBTQ+ Canadians simply because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
In addition, many older LGBTQ+ Canadians do not have children or partners to assist with housing-related issues whether offering financial support toward the cost of housing or with moving into a senior housing unit or into a long-term care facility. Many older LGBTQ+ Canadians may not have strong ties with family due to being rejected for their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Many older LGBTQ+ Canadians continue to fear being mistreated if their sexual orientation and/or gender identity becomes known to their landlord, despite changes in human rights protections.
Lack of data
Our project found that national data are not being systematically collected in a way that includes older LGBTQ+ Canadians. Overall, there are significant gaps in the types and quality of data collected on older LGBTQ+ Canadians, including their housing experiences, housing needs and housing concerns.
Given this, our team recommends that existing national data collection processes such as census data, among others, include more questions related to the specific housing and health needs of older LGBTQ+ populations. Such data will be vital in informing the development of housing policies and programs that consider the needs of these populations going forward.
As we heard from those who participated in our housing project, it is critical that they are included in discussions about housing policies and programs with government decision-makers at the national, provincial and municipal levels. As it stands, the voices of older LGBTQ+ Canadians are absent from these discussions, including from the National Housing Strategy.
Regulation and enforcement
Our participants spoke about the issue of existing human rights legislation not being regulated or enforced in housing contexts. This led to concerns about how safe and accepting some housing environments were. Others feared having to “go back into the closet” to prevent harassment or violence from housing providers or other residents.
As we have seen throughout the current pandemic, where we live has important implications for our health and well-being. The failure of our current housing policies and programs to consider the needs of older populations, including older LGBTQ+ Canadians, highlights the social, economic and other disparities that affect health outcomes. Canada has more work to do to truly advance housing both as a determinant of health and as a basic human right.