Homelessness and precarious housing is on the rise in Canada and in many affluent countries. 235,000 Canadians were homeless in 2016, and on any given night as many as 35,000 people are without a secure place to sleep. This raises the issue of how the literacy and learning needs of this large constituency of Canadians are being met.
A post by researcher Katy Jones, at the Literacy Research Centre at Lancaster University in the UK, shares the findings of her doctoral study on how community agencies meet the literacy and learning needs of homeless citizens. She finds that there are all kinds of informal and formal strategies agencies adopt, including providing opportunities for volunteering in agencies, one-to-one mentoring, small group informal learning around issues of interest, literacy classes embedded in services. But she also found that these initiatives are enacted on-the-fly and are not supported with the funding, policies and infrastructure required to respond to a ‘new normal’ of housing precarity. Her findings resonate with what the experiences of many literacy educators in BC:
Whilst there are some great examples of educational provision in the homelessness sector, in most instances it exists on a precarious footing. Learning opportunities are often short-term and ad hoc. In the absence of long-term funding, provision is often dependent on the time, skills and expertise of volunteers, or the availability of outreach from local colleges and training providers. Interviewees explained that a reliance on volunteer support could undermine the consistency of provision.