I’ve been a street nurse for 26 years. This summer I joined with the much younger and impressive nurse practitioner Jessica Hales to write an appeal to the nation. It’s an appeal called: Join the Call for a National Housing Strategy.

Here it is:

Canada is in the midst of a major housing crisis. Even the United Nations has called the state of housing and homelessness in Canada a “national emergency.” From students to retirees to middle and low-income families, millions of people suffer because they cannot afford suitable housing. As nurses, we witness the link between inadequate housing and ill health. We have seen poor housing and homelessness cause stress, malnourishment, impaired early childhood development, chronic illness and premature death. As nurses, we know that a housing crisis is a health crisis. 

Our governments have created this crisis

In 1993, the federal government dismantled our national housing program. As a result, over 100,000 affordable housing units were not built during the last 20 years. The provinces and municipalities, now saddled with responsibility for social housing, have never filled the gap. Since 1990, Canada’s population has increased by 30 per cent, yet the annual national investment in housing has declined by over 46 per cent. The crisis has only worsened.

Today the crisis is widespread.

Every year over 235,000 people in Canada experience an episode of homelessness. Homelessness though is the tip of the iceberg. Currently, one in five households struggles with the cost of housing and cannot afford both a home and necessities like groceries, medication, transportation and energy. Meanwhile, the deficit in affordable housing has left hundreds of thousands of inadequately housed people stuck on provincial wait lists.

Cost of housing is not the only issue. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians live in unsafe and unhealthy housing conditions. The daily reality for many people living in rental housing includes overcrowding, mold, infestations and faulty plumbing. The housing crisis many First Nations communities experience is exacerbated by the equally dire emergencies of unsafe drinking water and high food costs. We can and must do better.

We can take action.

In 1998, municipalities and community groups across Canada declared homelessness a national disaster and asked the federal government to take action. Some homeless shelters and additional services were gained, but we still don’t have a national housing strategy. We must continue to pressure our governments.

Safe, affordable housing is a human right

As nurses, we call for a national housing strategy. Will you join us? Please sign and share our national petition and Call for a National Housing Strategy.


Cathy and Jessica                    

Cathy Crowe, RN, BAAN, MEd is a Street Nurse and advocate on homelessness and housing. She is co-founder of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee and author of “Dying for a Home. Homeless Activists Speak Out.”

Jessica Hales, MN, NP-PHC is a Nurse who provides primary healthcare to people who are homeless or precariously housed and is an advocate on homelessness and housing.                                                                 

Petition: Call for a National Housing Strategy

  • We call on all levels of government to recognize the right to housing and immediately develop a fully funded national housing strategy that includes:
  • The building of new accessible and affordable social housing
  • The building of new supportive housing that includes harm reduction housing and meets the needs of substance users and people with mental health issues and other chronic illnesses
  • The building of housing and infrastructure in collaboration with indigenous communities to ensure decent housing and access to clean water and sanitation in every community
  • The renewal and expansion of housing subsidies
  • The repair of existing social housing

To sign and share the petition in English or French click here.

Photo: Abandoned house/Cathy Crowe, Co-op housing/Marty Dolin.