Persistent Homelessness Problem Despite Known Solutions

1 06 2009

“It’s not rocket science. The solution to homelessness is housing. The solution to malnutrition is good food.”
– Judy Graves, Housing Advocate, City of Vancouver

As many experts on homelessness have said, the solutions to homelessness are known, yet the problem continues to persist.  3 Ways to Home is a ten year regional homelessness plan which was developed by the Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness in 2000. The ways towards housing the homeless are built on the following 3 Pillars, as shown in the diagram below: Housing, Support, and Adequate Income. 3 ways to home

You can find out more about the 3 Ways to Home Strategy here.

The reality which continues to astonish me the most is the fact that each homeless person costs the government more per year in services and shelters compared to the costs of providing housing to the person. According to a report by Pivot Legal, Cracks in the Foundation, it requires $40,000 per year to provide services to a homeless person while providing social housing to the homeless would cost only $22,000 to $28,000 per year. The B.C. Office of Housing and Construction Standards conducted a detailed study of homelessness, and the part which shows exact cost analysis can be found by clicking here.  Not only is homelessness a social justice issue, but tackling it also makes good economic sense!

So the question now is, why hasn’t this problem been properly addressed?  I want to start looking at initiatives and ideas which can contribute to developing the 3 ways to home.

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A special letter

1 06 2009

I was going through my binder of materials from when I volunteered for the Cold Wet Weather Program, and I came across a letter I received from one of the shelter clients, thanking the church members for giving him a donated backpack filled with necessities for everyday living. I remember how impressed I was by the high quality items people wanted to donate to the homeless, and Jason’s letter highlights how getting such nice things showed him that people cared for him as a human being. I think this goes back to several of my previous posts discussing the approach of treating homeless people with dignity and respect. It was encouraging to remember the gratitude and positive spirits of many of our clients. Here is the letter:

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NIMBY!

31 05 2009

NIMBY

My last post was about the principle of valuing all people and treating everyone with dignity and respect, even those who are out-casted and marginalized from our society. The comments I received from this post were generally positive – people seemed to agree about the importance of valuing every single person as true human beings. Then something came to my mind – when I was volunteering in Coquitlam for the Cold Wet Weather Mat Program in its first year, we had to get it approved by the City Council. The situation was that there was and still is a growing number of homeless people in the Tri Cities and unlike the DTES there is no permanent shelter in the Tri Cities. This was my first time working with homelessness, and I figured that the idea of the Cold Weather program, which used church facilities as temporary shelters during the cold winter months, would be something that would be a guaranteed yes in the minds of everyone in my community. However, I was wrong and when I went to the city council meeting it brought record numbers of people who wanted to have their say about this temporary shelter idea – the city councilors had to stay well past 1am listening to the communities’ voices and there were a good amount on both the yes and no sides. The main objections of people to having a homeless shelter could be summed up by the statement, “Yes there is a problem and we need to help them, but don’t’ put the shelter so close to home – not in our backyard!” I looked back at the City Council records, and the arguments for this were based on these ideas:

  • The churches which will house the homeless are very near schools
  • Most of the homeless people are addicted
  • Our communities will see more theft, vandalism, and crimes
  • It is possible that the homeless people could have criminal records
  • It is possible that the homeless person could be a pedophile.
    • (Isn’t this also true for the person sitting next to you in a public bus stop, or at the movie theatres?)
    • Homeless people could be there at the same time that the church’s kids program
      • And they could also be walking down the street and sharing the same sidewalk as us..

I could go on, but it seemed clear to me that there were many prejudices about homeless people. Homeless people are simply a group of people with one thing in common: they are all homeless. Continuing to hold such prejudices and separate the homeless from our communities would only keep the homeless people marginalized and away from the goal of re-integrating them back into society. We have to realize that if we are to solve the problem of homelessness, we would have to accept that they would be living with us – our neighbors even, if we are to achieve the goal of bringing them back into society. It seems like we want to help them, but only if it doesn’t affect our lives at all. Only if it’s “not in our backyard”.  As I thought of Bill’s principle more, I had to think back at these experiences, because it’s often easy to agree and say that homelessness is a problem and something should be done about it, but the real challenge to our statements is when solutions start getting proposed which may affect our lives, and require changes in our perceptions, beliefs, and actions. I must ask:

If not in our backyard, then in whose?

If not now, then when?





A Permanent Homeless Shelter = Permanent solution?

21 05 2009

I contacted local politicians to get an update about their thoughts, and the current status of the homelessness initiatives in the Tri Cities. Here’s what I have found out so far:

  • Dennis Marsden, from the BC Liberals, writes that “The Tri Cities Cold Weather mat program is a valuable tool to assist at extreme times and I am supportive of this type of program as a part of a strategy to a longer term plan including transitional shelters and ultimately a more permanent solution.”
  • Diane Thorne, my local NDP representative, informed me that currently the City of Coquitlam has donated a site for a permanent shelter in the Tri Cities, but actions still need to be taken to ensure that provincial funding can help get the facility up and running. Diane wrote that she has spoken in the legislature about getting funding for the shelter, as well as other solutions to housing issues in B.C.
    • She wrote, “Homelessness would also be reduced if services such as supportive housing for the mentally ill on the Riverview site were expanded instead of selling off the property to a private developer for condo towers, as suggested by Housing Minister Coleman.”
    • Diane supports affordable housing, stating that, “There are a number of affordable housing alternatives available — all that is needed is the political will to support and expand these options.”

It seems that both politicians support working towards a permanent shelter. But is a permanent shelter the solution to the homelessness problem? What do you think? If so, how long do you think it will take to get funding for such a shelter?