Changing the Conversation

Re-envisioning Narrative Engagement about Housing Insecurity in Communities


Communities across Canada are experiencing a housing crisis involving rising unaffordability,
housing insecurity, and homelessness. One of the key challenges to increasing the supply of
various types of affordable, social, and supportive housing to address this crisis is a lack of
consensus in communities about the need for this housing; indeed, opposition to specific
projects in public discourse can often outweigh broader discussion about the needs of the
community as whole. This dynamic can hinder municipalities from developing an adequate
supply of socially-beneficial housing and supportive services. This project examines how a
broad set of public spaces can facilitate a healthier discourse about housing in the community
that prioritizes the perspectives of those with lived and living experience of housing insecurity as
a lived expertise and that uses arts-based engagement to develop new narratives focusing on
the value of the community coming together to support affordable housing for everyone.
The core goal of this project is to explore how to build a greater sense of solidarity in
communities around solutions to the housing crisis that prioritize the perspectives of lived
experts and that develop inclusive narratives that speak to both the minds and hearts of
community members. To achieve this goal, the project has two primary objectives: first, to
understand the challenges involved in building greater consensus by looking at the barriers
experienced by lived experts and at the narratives that drive opposition to affordable housing
projects within the community; and second, to generate transformative impacts that build
greater consensus about the need for affordable housing in the community through providing

more opportunities for lived experts to influence housing discourse and by running an arts-
based public advocacy campaign that encourages the community to come together to support

affordable housing in all neighbourhoods. The lessons learned from the implementation and
evaluation of this project will be communicated to policy-makers, academics, community
organizations, and others with an interest in how municipalities can revise and supplement their
existing engagement structures to use a broader set of community spaces in innovative ways to
generate a healthier public dialogue about issues related to housing insecurity.

Changing the Conversation – Artists in Residence

The Arts Council of New Westminster, in partnership with Douglas College, is pleased to introduce Amal Ishaque and Pj Patten as our Artists in Residence for the Changing the Conversation Project. This 3 year project will examine how public spaces and public art can facilitate a healthier discourse about housing in the community that prioritizes the perspectives of those with lived and living experience of housing insecurity. Through arts-based engagement, the project aims to develop new narratives around housing and the importance of community coming together to support affordable housing for everyone.We look forward to the work Amal will doing!


Amal Ishaque is a Pushcart nominated poet, educator and interdisciplinary storyteller. Their writing has appeared in multiple journals, anthologies and other platforms, including: The World that Belongs to Us: An Anthology of Queer Poetry from South Asia, Writing the Walls Down: A Convergence of LGBTQ Voices, The Puritan – What Does It Mean to Be A Muslim Writer, Room Magazine, The Feminist Wire and more. Amal has curated numerous arts showcases, writing workshops and other creative projects centering narratives that are often hidden or forgotten. In 2019, they completed a year-long arts residency with Carnegie Community Centre.

At the beginning of the pandemic, they co-founded the Marpole Mutual Aid Network to respond to growing food and housing insecurity in their neighbourhood. Amal’s art practice is informed by years of grassroots community organizing and the foundational belief that together we can create the liberatory futures of our dreams.


PJ Patten is a self-taught graphic illustrator, tattoo artist, and poet whose work is influenced by the intersection of his Japanese heritage with his American military upbringing. 

Patten’s own lived experience of homelessness and addiction as a young adult led to the publishing of his first published book “Tower25: Strung Out, Homeless, and Standing Up Again.” 

The evocative and emotional illustrations in the book are inspired by the traditional Japanese artform of Haiga, which blends watercolour painting and haiku. Patten uses inkstone and brushes that belonged to his Oba-chan (Japanese for “grandmother”) that she herself used to create art. 

His preferred mediums are acrylic paints on canvas, pen, ink, watercolours on paper.

As part of his mental health journey, Patten spent ten years living at a buddhist retreat center, immediately after which he began working on his graphic novel “Tower 25”. 

Patten has led graphic novel workshops for at-risk youth and given talks on comics and his own recovery story. He has had his paintings and drawings exhibited in and around Vancouver B.C., and is currently working on a new project – also a graphic novel – telling the stories of the children who spent time in Canada’s Japanese Internment Camps.