Month: January 2019

Close To Home

An interesting point. Does the government have a responsibility in helping the homeless?

I came across this sign one day while walking home from the Kitchener Public Library. It reminded me of a post I made a while back about whose job it is to help people get employed.

Using the same logic in that post, there are two camps on the subject of housing. 

The first is that housing is the individual’s responsibility. If anyone wants to keep a roof over his or her head, find a job (or keep the one you have), and stick to priorities in the budget. That’s such a simplistic viewpoint, not to mention totally unrealistic.

Owning a home requires not one but two incomes. The cost of a home — a basic necessity — is now higher than items classified as a luxury. These include lamborghinis and world cruises. 

The option to rent an apartment as an affordable alternative is also a thing of the past. For example, an average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Toronto is $2,620. It’s no better in smaller urban areas either. In Kitchener, Ontario it’s $1,320. Choosing a one-bedroom apartment in place of a two bedroom one offers some relief, but it’s still no different from paying a monthly mortgage.

The instability of today’s economic climate has a direct impact on employment stability. Companies have become more aggressive at expense management through labour cost cutting and relocation, even when the government of the day has given corporate welfare as a condition not to do either in the first place.

On the other side of the coin is the argument that housing is a human right, of which I agree with. We’ve come a long way since the wooden hut: modern homes have running water, sanitation, electricity, home heating and even Internet hotspots, but like the hut, it still provides a basic need as protection from the elements. An individual cannot survive without a roof over his or her head and a bed to sleep in. That’s an irrefutable fact.

Where I begin to split ranks is when activists start chanting for even more taxes on the well-to-do to pay for affordable housing. Yes, housing is important but there has to be a better way than more taxes. We’re already paying a lot of taxes: can anyone honestly say we’re getting a good ROI based on the services we’re receiving lately? What guarantee do we have that these new taxes will go into housing based on the past track record of government transparency?

The angle I would approach in this discussion is that people who do not have a home simply do not disappear into the streets. According to the policy brief from the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) and Housing First in Canada :

Homelessness is a significant social problem in Canada, with recent estimates putting the total number of people who experience homelessness on a given night at over 35,000 (Gaetz, Dej, Richter, & Redman, 2016). In Canada (Aubry et al., 2013), as in the U.S. (Culhane et al., 2007; Kuhn & Culhane, 2008), research has identified different sub-types of single adults experiencing homelessness. Single adults experiencing chronic and episodic homelessness constitute 15-20% of the homeless population and they account for the majority of shelter use. Furthermore, many have complex needs involving serious mental illness and addictions. In contrast, those who are temporarily homeless, typically have only one shelter stay and are able to quickly obtain housing either on their own or with short-term support.

That’s a sizeable chunk of the population that needs to find refuge from the elements. When shelters are packed and have to turn away these people, the coffee shops, libraries, shopping malls, hospitals, and other places not designed to house people become the next destination and this is where the problems begin. Employees are forced to become social workers and the general population is made uncomfortable with the sight of people lugging in what belongings they can carry and sleeping in the chairs if not on the floor. Sometimes the police have to get involved when those suffering from mental illness become disruptive.

Sleeping in places not meant for residential living has long term health consequences as well. Lack of REM sleep, not being able to lie down on a supportive mattress, and not getting the recommended number of hours of sleep have both a negative physiological and a psychological impact.

It is for this reason why finding a place for those less fortunate is a worthy investment for the government to make. The transformation of individuals from a state of negative return to one of positive return (as in gainfully working and stabilized) leads to less disruptions in everyday living, reduced costs in law enforcement, social programs, and medical care, an increase in government revenue to pay for services we take for granted, and improved safety for the more vulnerable members of society.

Since the purpose of government is to protect its citizenship, provide social order, and maintain essential services, dealing with homelessness would certainly be on its collective to-do list.

The sign could serve as a reminder to put that issue at the very top of that list.

Thanks for reading!