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Addressing the Homeless Crisis: A Call to Action Across Canada

Homelessness is a pressing issue affecting communities across Canada – an issue that demands a coordinated response by all provinces. While each region faces unique challenges, the underlying factors that contribute to homelessness are pervasive throughout the country. In this introduction to Polite Canada’s posts on this topic, we examine the scope of homelessness in Canada and propose comprehensive solutions to address this urgent issue.

Canada’s homelessness crisis is a multifaceted issue influenced by a range of factors, including economic disparities, mental health struggles, substance abuse, and insufficient affordable housing. Recent data indicates a troubling increase in the homeless population nationwide, highlighting the severity of the problem and the need for immediate action.

According to a survey conducted by Research Co., just over seven in ten Canadians believe that homelessness is a major and growing problem, and it has an annual estimated cost to our economy of over $7 billion. Poverty is the root cause of homelessness, an issue that can often be brought on by a multitude of factors including substance abuse, domestic abuse, unemployment, a lack of affordable homes, family conflicts, and coming from marginalized communities, among many other reasons.

Data collected in 2021 by Statistics Canada shows that over one in ten (11.2%) Canadians or 1,690,000 people have experienced some form of homelessness in their lifetime. Between 25,000 and 35,000 people are homeless on any given night in the country. In terms of ethnic groups, Indigenous (35%) have the largest population share facing homelessness, followed by racialized (9.5%) and immigrant (8.3%) people. 90 percent of homeless shelters in Canada are in metropolitan areas of Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, and Alberta. Around 62 percent of homeless people in Canada are males and 20 percent of people experiencing homelessness are between the ages of 13-24.

According to experts on the topic, rising interest rates and high inflation are pushing more Canadians into homelessness each year. In the fall of 2022, almost half (44%) of Canadians were very concerned with their ability to afford housing or rent.

What is the solution?

In 2009, Medicine Hat in Alberta became one of the first Canadian cities to announce its commitment to ending homelessness using the Housing First approach, but it is still up for debate whether this solution was eradicating homelessness or just moving the homeless to metro cities like Vancouver and Toronto. The lack of follow through with this solution demonstrated a major problem with Canada’s attempts to address homelessness – a lack of accountability.

Living without a stable home exposes individuals and families to numerous hardships, including exposure to harsh weather conditions, lack of access to essential services, and social isolation. Homeless individuals often also face stigma and discrimination, compounding their difficulties and hindering their ability to reintegrate into society.

Further, the impact of homelessness extends beyond individuals experiencing housing instability to impact broader communities and public spaces. The presence of homeless individuals in public areas often correlates directly with serious concerns about safety and cleanliness. Issues such as loitering, panhandling, and makeshift encampments create discomfort and inconvenience for residents and visitors alike.

While all of these concerns are valid, it is essential to recognize that homelessness is a symptom of deeper societal issues rather than a problem caused by homeless individuals themselves. Addressing the root causes of homelessness through comprehensive solutions not only benefits those experiencing homelessness but also improves the overall quality of life and safety in communities. Addressing homelessness requires an approach that combines short-term interventions with long-term strategies aimed at tackling root causes. There are numerous potential solutions, some of which include:

– Supportive housing programs: With the root of a significant amount of homelessness being major underlying issues like substance addiction, supportive housing programs could help people get off the streets while going through wrap-around services such as counseling, addiction treatment, and life skills training.

– Affordable housing initiatives: While many provinces have started programs for affordable housing, accessibility to those programs remains limited. Some improved initiatives could include the development of more affordable housing units, improved rent control measures, and housing subsidies.

– Enhanced support services: With largely nonexistent budgets for support services, increased funding could be used for outreach programs that connect homeless individuals with essential services and improved access to emergency shelters and transitional housing options that meet the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness.

– Prevention and early intervention: Implementation of enhanced support for individuals exiting foster care, hospitals, and correctional facilities would prevent many from falling into homelessness. There is also an opportunity to provide targeted interventions for youth experiencing housing instability, including support for education, employment, and housing stability.

– Collaboration: For any solutions to work, policymakers must be willing to work with the public, non-profit organizations, businesses, and community groups that are dedicated to coordinating efforts and maximizing resources.

There are plenty of examples that showcase the effectiveness of some of these strategies in reducing homelessness. Japan stands out with its diverse strategy that involves providing those who lack housing with access to resources, permanent shelter, and community assistance. With a significantly smaller landmass and a population of 125.7 million people compared to less than 39 million in Canada, Japan now has roughly 1 homeless person per 34,000 residents – one of the lowest rates of homelessness in the world.

What can the everyday Canadian do?

Homelessness is a complex and pervasive issue that demands a comprehensive and coordinated response at higher levels, but data shows that accountability has been lacking when it comes to addressing this issue. Canadians have the opportunity to raise awareness about homelessness and challenge stereotypes to promote empathy, understanding, and support for marginalized individuals and communities. At the same time, it is also important to hold responsible agencies and governing bodies accountable for maximizing available resources to tackle issues head-on as opposed to spending decades on planning for solutions that rarely arrive.

At a national level, Canada is in a position to work towards a future where homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring. It is imperative that we prioritize the well-being and dignity of all Canadians by committing to ending homelessness and building a more inclusive society for not only our future, but for generations to come.

More Data: Made in CA