Book Review: A Complex Exile: Homelessness and Social Exclusion in Canada

This book provokes questions about how (and why) we settle for failure: the failure of our society to ensure people’s rights and dignity are honoured, the failure of our current “solutions” to homelessness to bring about real social inclusion, and even the presumed “failure” of people who are marginalized by our social structures and systems. Thankfully, it is also a book that offers an alternative way forward.

Dej combines hours of observations, interviews, and focus groups with an extensive review of related studies and philosophical theories to develop and defend her thesis (and it does read like a PhD thesis) that current approaches to homelessness actually entrench individuals’ social exclusion, rather than bring about social inclusion, even if they acquire housing.

Dej uses the concept of “redeemable but never redeemed” to illustrate how people who are homeless act as consumers of programs, services, and largely, psychotropic medication, that provide them with a sense of empowerment and hope that if they work hard enough and follow the rules, they can “fix” themselves and achieve social inclusion. Participating in these programs also gives them access to certain privileges. The Catch-22, Dej contends, is that these very programs actually cement social exclusion by placing the blame and responsibility on the individual while simultaneously undermining their autonomy. In doing so, there is no recognition or dismantling of the external structures that cause and perpetuate homelessness and social exclusion in the first place.

Dej recommends rights-based approaches to programs and legislation paired with peer-led and peer-run services to both prevent and end homelessness and social exclusion in Canada.

A Complex Exile: Homelessness and Social Exclusion in Canada

By Erin Dej
UBC Press, 2020

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