Homelessness one more time  – Issue 75 

I enjoy exploring towns and cities and this year we spent a month in Paris and Strasbourg. Sadly, I always expect to see some level of homelessness. However, I wasn’t ready for the number of little encampments that I saw in France this year. Tents and cardboard shelters near the Louvre, in shopping arcades, just everywhere! So I have to write about homelessness, one more time. 

Previously quoted statistics 

When I first wrote on this subject Canada had:

  • More than 8000 chronically homeless
  • But on any given night there are 35,000 homeless
  • In addition, an estimated 50,000 couch surf on any given evening
  • Approximately 235,000 different people experience homelessness every year. 

Many of the 235,000 use a homeless shelter at least once during the year.

Causes:

  • Many families spend more than 50% on housing. As a result, these families are just one illness, accident, or missed paycheque from being on the street. 
  • Neighbourhood gentrification that does not consider the displaced poor
  • Inadequate planning for refugees be they intra-regional, intra-national, or international.
  • No consideration for the needs of those discharged from hospitals and other institutions. Of these, many require continued rehabilitation , care, and supervision.
  • Domestic violence and flight from the family home
  • The lack of  affordable housing for the numerous households that fall below the CMHC-defined “median income” determination. 
Feeding the homeless from a community fridge

And how has that changed?

I wanted to know the impact that Covid-19 has had on the homeless situation at home. I spoke with James Hughes of Montreal’s Old Brewery Mission to hear what he has seen and experienced over the past couple of years. 

The brutally cold temperatures of  Winter 2021 / 2022 combined with the Omicron outbreak created a peculiar problem. Cold (more people needing shelter) versus COVID (more space needed per person). This required Old Brewery and the other shelters to continuously adapt to changing needs and to the competing limitations of infectious disease  and frigid weather. 

While Covid and weather tested the capacity of the shelter system in Montréal, these are temporal issues. Of much greater concern to Hughes:

  • Renovictions, escalating rents, municipally delayed developments, and rising costs will lead to more and more families spending over 50% of income on housing. All of this makes CMHC’s affordable rent / median income ratio more ridiculous. More people, more families will be without a home. 
  • Shelters compete with the private sector for employees. Tight labour markets and rising salaries make it difficult to hire enough employees to have the system operate at maximum efficiency. 

So more people to house, less people to help!

Silver Lining?

The COVID-19 crisis helped authorities and the general population develop a much clearer understanding of homeless vulnerability. Also, Montréal shelters have always cooperated to serve the itinerant population. However, the level of collaboration between these organizations and various levels of government has increased over the past two years.

Could better understanding and awareness of the vulnerable homeless lead to Housing Rights legislation in Canada? Finland has enshrined the right to housing in its constitution. This has led to a reduction in its overall homeless population of about 17,000 in 1989 to about 4000 today. This versus Canada’s 235,000 homeless. Less than 1000 lived either outside, in temporary shelters, or in hostels.

Finland’s goal – eradicate homelessness by 2027

How has Finland been so successful? 

  • Because shelter is constitutionally enshrined human right, a homeless person gets a home, a flat, or a  rental flat with a contract, without preconditions. Example: There are no sobriety requirements to getting a permanent home. Housing first, treatment follows. 
  • Each new housing area – not development – must have 25% affordable social housing.
  • A 52-bed shelter in Helsinki operates as a housing placement centre. It is the now only shelter required in that city. All others have undergone renovation into independent apartments. 
  • Also, Finland is a practical country. They have done the math. The Finnish government saves €15,000 per homeless person per year by providing permanent shelter.
Finland’s goal: To eradicate homelessness

Homelessness one more time! 

But probably not the last time. Solving homelessness is step one in solving the housing crisis. 

It demands politicians who have an understanding of human dignity.

Juha Kaakinen, architect of Finland’s Housing First program. 

If you wish to donate to the Old Brewery Mission click here.

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