Sliding stock markets, sinking commodity prices and retracting of the global economy.
The news is filled with stories of clouds hanging low over the economy, of turmoil and unrest, political disenchantment and economic disaster.
And so the world spins.
I spent Wednesday last week at a roundtable meeting on Canada’s affordable housing crisis. We met with hopefuls running in the Federal election — 2 Green Party candidates at the first session. 6 Liberals at the second. 5 NDP at the third. The Conservatives did not turn up.
Sponsored by the CHRA (Canadian Housing and Renewal Association), our goal as organizations involved in homelessness and housing is to raise the issue of Canada’s affordable housing crisis on their agenda, and thus, to make it into a national conversation this election.
The candidates who came were passionate, committed and interested in learning more about the issues surrounding housing and homelessness. And, they wanted to ensure we understood why their Party is the one to vote for.
Though the NDP has long fought for a national housing strategy, it is the Green Party who has taken concrete action this election by announcing on August 25th the Party’s plan to invest in social and affordable housing.
Yet, even in their statement, there is evidence of their lack of understanding of the depth of the issue, and the causal factors that lead to homelessness.
In the media release that The Green Party distributed on their proposed National Housing Strategy, Lynne Quarmby, an electoral hopeful is quoted as saying, “The leading cause of homelessness is poverty.”
Homelessness is first and foremost a result of governments (all levels) failure to plan and action a housing strategy that would make available, safe, secure and affordable housing at a scale that is aligned to meet the needs of the population.
Homelessness is an outcome of what we have done to create it.
Since the 1990s, with the withdrawal of the federal government’s investment in affordable housing, provinces and municipalities have struggled to respond. In their report on The State of Homelessness in Canada 2014, authors Stephen Gaetz, Tanya Gulliver and Tim Richter state: “Declining wages (even minimum wage has not kept up with inflation in any jurisdiction in Canada), reduced benefit levels–including pensions and social assistance – and a shrinking supply of affordable housing have placed more and more Canadians at risk of homelessness.” (Source Document)
The report goes on to state:
“The rise of modern mass homelessness in Canada can be traced directly back to the withdrawal of the Federal government’s investment in affordable housing and pan-Canadian cuts to welfare beginning in the 1980s. In 1982, all levels of government combined funded 20,450 new social housing units annually. By 1995, the number dropped to around 1,000, with numbers slowly climbing to 4,393 annually by 2006. Over the past 25 years, while Canada’s population increased by almost 30%, annual national investment in housing has decreased dramatically, by over 46%. In 1989, Canadians contributed, through taxation, an average of $115 per person to federal housing investments. By 2013, that figure had dropped to just over $60 per person (in 2013 dollars).”
Homelessness didn’t happen because a whole bunch of Canadians decided they didn’t want to stay at home. It happened because they did not have access to the resources and affordable housing they needed to live at home.
The Green Party’s release also states that Canada is the only OECD member without a national housing strategy.
Most OECD members do not have a national housing strategy. What can be stated is that Canada has a rate of social renting less than the average of any other OECD country. Canada does not do a good job of taking care of its vulnerable populations. As an example, rental households most in need of support are female-led lone-parent families, seniors living alone, aboriginal families and recent new comers to Canada. (source)
A comment often heard when talking about homelessness, and one stated by one of the Green Party candidates, is that we are all one pay cheque away from homelessness.
We’re not all one pay cheque away. Most of us have resources, and an inherent resiliency that can sustain us longer than one pay cheque should hard times hit.
That’s because, most of us are not forced to continually make decisions between putting food on the table, a roof over our heads or school books in the hands of our children. Most of us have had the privilege of being able to build lives that fulfill our dreams and allow us to feel like productive members of society. Most of us have had relatively easy access to the resources we needed to get an education, job training, health care and health supports that ensured we have what we take for granted; the daily comfort of knowing we are at home, secure and safe in our world.
For those living on the margins, whose lack of resources and limited resiliency are impeded by social policies that do not provide access to adequate income and/or housing, tough economic times call for them to do what they’ve always done. Dig in. Hunker down. Keep existing. Keep going from one door to the next hoping to find access to the resources that truly will make a difference between having nothing, and having the opportunity to lead their children, and themselves, out of poverty.
Unfortunately, for the one in ten Canadians Statistics Canada reported as living in poverty after the 2009 recession, they’ve been down so long, there is no upside to their economic situation, no matter where the world is at. No matter the economic times, vulnerable populations remain vulnerable in the face of scarcity and plenty. Unless, we do something different.
What can you do to make a difference? Join in the conversation. Help raise affordable housing onto the national agenda. When a federal candidate comes to your door, ask them, “What do you know about Canada’s affordable housing crisis?” And then ask, “What do you and your party plan to do about it? How can I help?”