2021 ONPHA Conference Recap

Written by Ellen McGowan

February 14, 2022

I attended the 2021 Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONPHA) Conference, which took place virtually from November 10-12. This year’s theme, Opening doors through housing, invited delegates to consider excellence and innovation in the sector and in operational practices.

The ONPHA Conference is one of the largest housing conferences in North America. This year, more than 670 members, partners, and government officials tuned in to 27 sessions on Covid-19, funding, tenant supports, and more.

This blog post will provide a snapshot of some of the highlights and underlying themes that emerged from this year’s conference.

Building a Culture of Inclusion

“A lack of diversity means that we leave opportunity on the table.”

Presented By: Mark Breckles, Angela Cooke, Steffan Jones, Dr. Barrington Walker, and Andrew McKenzie (Moderator)

Building a culture of inclusion requires diverse leadership that will inspire, engage, and retain top talent. This plenary session shared best practices, lessons learned, and advice for building a more inclusive organization.

  • Across the sector and beyond, organizations have struggled to include diverse employees. Organizations are increasingly focusing on attracting diverse leadership that is reflective of the populations they serve.
  • Diversity and inclusion are not one-and-done initiatives. What is needed is a new mindset that positions diversity and inclusion at the centre of the organization.
  • When asked why advancing diversity is important, the speakers asserted that a lack of diversity means a lack of skills, competencies, and perspectives. Without diversity, organizations lose legitimacy.
  • Three principles emerged for building a culture of inclusion within your organization: 1) being explicit; 2) being intentional; and 3) being accountable.

Understanding Veteran Homelessness in Canada

Presented By: Suzanne Le

On Remembrance Day 2021, Suzanne Le from Multifaith Housing Initiative (MHI) discussed the role of the non-profit housing sector in supporting and honouring veterans.

  • It is estimated that between 3,000 and 5,000 homeless veterans live on the streets of Canada. The circumstances that lead to veteran homelessness can be driven by many issues, from post-traumatic stress disorders, to job loss or instability, to difficulty transitioning from military to civilian life.
  • Most veterans who are homeless are adult males, and overall they tend to be older than homeless non-veterans.
  • There are other distinguishing characteristics of veterans who are homeless in Canada. For example, veterans have a higher rate of episodic homelessness than other shelter users. They are also more likely than non-veterans experiencing homelessness to have attended post-secondary education (see Figure 1).
  • Due to these unique characteristics, an individualized approach is key to solving the problem of veteran homelessness.
  • MHI Veterans’ House, a community housing project specifically designed for veterans, provides 40 units of affordable housing. A range of support services are offered, including counselling and mental health services, that are tailored to the needs of each veteran. It is MHI’s first project dedicated to housing veterans.

Watch this special presentation to hear more about the impacts of veteran homelessness

Indigenous Housing & Reconciliation

The themes of Indigenous housing and Reconciliation were woven throughout the conference.

  • The opening keynote, delivered by Waneek Horn-Miller, considered the topic of Indigenous reconciliation and its critical role in our multicultural society. She highlighted the importance of including diverse voices at the table to build inclusivity and reconciliation into organizations and society.
  • On day two of the conference, community-led strategies for developing and implementing urban, rural, and northern Indigenous housing solutions across Turtle Island were explored. Some of this work is coming from the 50 Indigenous housing providers in Ontario (see Figure 2).
  • It was emphasized that more funding for Indigenous-led, culturally appropriate long-term housing and support services is needed.

In Closing

The 2021 ONPHA conference covered a range of topics from Covid-19, to tenant supports, to equity and inclusion and more. It remains an influential event for both new and established members of the non-profit housing sector.

ONPHA’s next conference is scheduled to take place from November 3-5, 2022, in Toronto or online.

Ellen McGowan

Development Project Coordinator

February 14, 2022