Today is World Homeless Awareness Day. Around the world cities and communities will be marking the day with events designed to focus our attention on what it means to be homeless and what it takes to end it.
Here in Calgary, we are holding an event at Olympic Plaza at noon. Mayor Nenshi will be saying a few words as will the Calgary Homeless Foundation CEO, Diana Krecsy. There will be performances by rapper, Transit and a young man, Austin, who he’s been mentoring. There will also be an opportunity to see the decorated patio-sized planter boxes that The Alex has created as part of its Planting Seeds of Change initiative. Fifteen agencies have painted and decorated the boxes which will be auctioned off online in the coming weeks.
While the event is designed to be fun and interactive, let’s make no mistake about it. Homelessness Sucks.
We’ve got suckers to hand out to prove it. Youth with lived experience of homelessness will be handing them out to passers-by. On each sucker is a statement a youth from the sector has written about what it means, or feels like, or is to be homeless.
You got no friends and family
You’re always dirty
People think you’re lazy or just don’t work hard enough to get a home
It’s a dog eat dog world out there and you just can’t trust nobody.
It ages you real fast.
Someone asked me if events like this make any difference. I replied that doing nothing makes a difference, so doing something will as well. If all we do is get the media to keep the focus on homelessness, and the dire need for affordable housing in our city, we will have done something to make a difference. And that counts.
Because, that’s the key message of the event. Affordable housing is the key.
To end homelessness and to prevent it, everyone needs affordable, safe and secure homes to live in. Here in Calgary, that’s hard to come by. Rents continue to rise, availability of housing continues to lessen. We have more people moving to the city everyday. The last stat I saw said that approximately 375 people move to Calgary on a daily basis.
Where are they going to live?
It’s a tough question to answer if you don’t make $17.29 per hour, the living wage in Calgary. (Based on 35-hour work week, the “living wage” works out to $31,470 annual salary.) And even then, in a city with a 1.2% vacancy rent where average rents have increased by over 5% in the past year, there’s still no guarantee you’ll find a place to live that you can afford, in the neighbourhood you want with the amenities you desire. (Source)
Calgary’s lack of affordable housing is evident in the homeless sector. Where once, an individual could enter the system of care and be housed within a month, it now takes at least 6 months for housing locators to find housing, and there is no option. The individual either must take it, or wait again.
Affordable housing ends homelessness. Without it, people will continue to filter in and out of emergency shelter. They will continue to sleep in parks and on benches, in doorways and alleys. They will continue to live beyond the margins of everyday existence, falling further and further away from that place they never once imagined they would never have, home.
If you’ve in Calgary, please come down to Olympic Plaza today and support the agencies and hundreds of workers and people with lived experience who will be there to ensure we don’t lose sight of the truth too many youth, adults and families are living today, Homelessness Sucks.