Monday, 3 November 2014

Push politicians to work on homelessness

How many cups of Timmies do you drink in a year?

For the sake of conversation, let’s say you drink one cup a day and spend $10 a week on Canada’s favourite coffee addiction. That means you spend about $520 a year in your beloved beverage.

Would you be willing to give up less than 10% of that or $46 to abolish homelessness in Canada? That’s what it would take, according to a recently released study by the Canadian Homelessness Research Centre Network at York University. Just an additional $46 a year from every Canadian.

The statistics are mind-numbing.

1.3 million Canadians live in a situation of housing insecurity.

200,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a given year.

30,000 are homeless on any given night.

14,400 stay in emergency shelters.

7,350 are lodged in violence against women shelters.

4,464 are in temporary shelters such as hospitals and jails.

2,880 are unsheltered, sleeping outside, on the streets.

Nearly half are adult males between 25 and 55.

20% are youth.

Aboriginal peoples are disproportionately represented among the homeless in Canada.

The majority are transitionally homeless, with an average time period of 50 days.

The cost to the Canadian economy is calculated to be $7 billion dollars a year.

In Ontario, housing is a legislated county responsibility. County councils in Grey and Bruce can not avoid it. The province has mandated a ten year housing strategy be put in place by each municipality. That work is done. Now it is up to the newly elected politicians to make it happen.

Local solutions to these issues are always the best. They meet local needs, informed by best practices. The challenge will be, as always, funding.

There are solutions with a proven track record of making a difference. And given that we have a whole class of newly elected politicians coming to our local and county council tables, this is their issue.

The Federal government has cut funding support for housing in Canada by 46% in the last twenty five years. Homeowners have been given generous tax breaks while the homeless and those at risk of homelessness have seen nothing. That must change.

We know and have solid evidence to back this up. Spending money on safe, secure housing can make a huge difference in health, well-being and in everyday life.

The provision of secure and safe housing has been proved over and over again, both in Canada and the United States to reduce policing costs, social service costs, health care costs and improve quality of family and community.

Making a difference is not hard. The solutions are not complex. But they take political will to start and citizen support to implement.

In the next few weeks our newly elected politicians will be receiving briefings on every aspect of their work. Their heads will be aching with the rules, regulations and processes they have to follow. I hope they will pay attention to the presentations of county staff surrounding housing. We have good, local plans. But it will be up to the newly elected politicians to make it happen.

I also encourage our newly elected politicians to put pressure on Queen’s Park and Ottawa, especially Ottawa, to improve funding for safe, secure housing. That funding has to be significant and it has to be long term. Then and only then will we see a positive change in those mind numbing numbers.

Now go back to the beginning of this column and read the statistics.

Then do something about them.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County