Yeah let's start giving out more free handouts and watch the amount of homeless people triple. Most of the homeless out on the streets want to be there and have alternatives. Easy access to drugs, zero responsibilities and the free handouts they already get is what they're already happy with.
I lived downtown vancouver for 20 years and I have never seen a single homeless person who wasn't just as happy as anyone else(when not pretending to suffer for freebies). Now before you bleeding hearts get at me, just understand this is the reality of what I see every day. I'm just calling it how I see it if you don't like reality don't blame me go watch another movie.
Or go give your boots to some poor shoeless bum so he can get rid of them and con some other sucker into a free pair of boots. I don't really like any of the homeless people I have seen or helped. I don't think anyone likes them and that's why they're homeless. I wish those people would join the various programs available and do some self reflection.
I have mentioned it before but I will just add that I view homeless people as two categories. Mentally disabled/drug addicted and spoiled brats. It should be illegal to live on the street in public, specially for their own safety. I spoke to a nurse who helped a double amputation on a homeless guy that was drinking and sleeping in the cold. Homeless people should be either placed in a home for the disabled or forced to work in a government program for minimum wages. Paying taxes like everyone else.
HOMELESSNESS IN CANADA Rudy PohlPreamble
This is the first in a series of articles about the causes of homelessness in Canada. Part 1 is a general introduction and gives an overview of some of the main causes of the rise in homelessness over the past three decades. See Article 2 on Poverty in Canada and how it relates to homelessness Poverty in CanadaIntroduction
Today's homelessness in Canadian communities represents a relatively new phenomenon, difficult to comprehend in this land of plenty and at time of such unprecedented prosperity. Surveys and statistics over the past three decades have repeatedly shown that the numbers of homeless people in Canada (and the US and Europe) have been steadily increasing to a level that is now far beyond anything seen a generation or two ago. While homelessness is not a new phenomenon in our country, the numbers of homeless people and their demographic makeup is.
How did this happen? How did we get here? What are the root causes of this alarming new situation, and most importantly, what can be done about it?
The primary sourcebook used for these articles is a book written by Barbara Murphy in the year 2000 entitled On The Street: How We Created Homelessness
. The publisher is J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing Inc. Barbara Murphy is a social policy consultant to the public and private sectors in Ottawa. She has held senior positions in regional government social services and has been a university lecturer on social adminstration and policy. Her first book, The Ugly Canadian: The Rise and Fall of a Caring Society
, was published in 1999.How Many Homeless are there?
Before we can grasp how serious the problem of homeless is in Canada and how we might tackle this problem, we first need to have a realistic estimate of how many homeless people there actually are in our country. To arrive at this figure is not as easy as it might seem.
Murphy writes at the outset of her book:
“… estimating the number of homeless nationwide is a process full of pitfalls. If the focus is on the number who are literally homeless, that is, people who sleep in shelters provided for homeless people or in other places most of us do not consider dwellings, the task is next to impossible. Census counts in most countries assume that everyone has an address, making the normal type of census of little use in estimating the number of homeless” (p.10).
Murphy discusses the strengths and weaknesses of various methods that have been used by governments both in Canada and the United States in recent years to try arrive at reasonable estimates of the number of homeless people. And, as she rightly points out, there’s a lot at stake. She states: “Overestimating invites public cynicism; underestimating incurs the wrath of service agencies that rely on public funding” (p.11). Nevertheless, any meaningful discussion of homelessness must be preface with a rough estimate of the number of homeless.
Obviously, how one defines homelessness will have a large bearing on the final estimate: the broader the definition, the larger the number will be. Murphy, like some others in the field, has chosen to define homelessness in its narrowest and most limiting terms, which is, “those using emergency shelters and those sleeping in the street” (p.12). Using this definition and what appears to be a credible head counting and estimating methodology, Murphy concludes that in the year 2000 there were approximately 35,000 to 40,000 homeless people in Canada. In the US this same statistical method resulted in an estimate of 350,000 homeless people, which is in line with the 10 to 1 ratio regarding most things in our countries.
This means that on any given night in the year 2000, there were, sleeping in shelters or on the street, up to 10,000 people in each of Montreal and Toronto, up to 5,000 in Vancouver, and anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 in each of Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Halifax, Saskatoon and Regina. These numbers, which are bad enough in themselves, do not begin count the tens of thousands of people who live in substandard, poorly-maintained, often over-crowded, vermin infested make-shift accommodations that strain the very definition of “housing,” let alone could reasonably be called a “home”.
In summary then, even by the most narrow, limited definition of the word homeless, we are still facing a grave national social crisis which should not exist in the first place, and which is getting worse by the year.The Make up of the Homeless Population
More is known about the make up of the homeless population than about its size. For example, the average age of the homeless has dropped significantly in recent decades. Studies done in the 1950s revealed that the average age of homeless people was near 50 years old, while today the homeless are in their middle to low thirties.
In terms of gender, although the large majority of homeless people are still men, women and children are making up a increasingly sizable proportion. A recent Toronto task force study showed that 29 percent of those using the emergency shelters were women. In 1990 official US government figures pegged the proportion of homeless women at 30 percent.
While the homeless of the past were concentrated in the “Skid Row” section of a given city limited to a few square blocks, today’s homeless being less harassed by the police and more willing to be visible, are spread throughout the whole downtown area.
Public policies regarding the mentally ill have also radically affected the nature of the homeless population and recent estimates of homeless people with psychiatric problems are from 20 to 35 percent. As well, studies show that about one third of homeless people have alcohol or drug abuse problems.Canada’s Dubious Distinction among Industrialized Nations
Not surprisingly, the rise of homeless has not been limited to North America and the same trends seen in Canada and the US are also seen across the Europe and Australia. However, Canada alone holds the dubious distinction of having received the strongest rebuke ever delivered by the United Nations for inactivity on homelessness and other poverty issues. In 1998, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights maintained that Canada’s failure to implement policies for the poorest members of the population in the previous 5 years had “exacerbated homelessness among vulnerable groups during a time of strong economic growth and increasing affluence” (p.15).
The irony was that this rebuke was given in the midst of Canada having been named for several years in a row as the best country in the world in which to live. Thus, what we are seeing is a disturbing situation where a steadily increasing level of homelessness exists in the very heartland of prosperity and comfort. Hence Murphy’s 1999 book entitled The Ugly Canadian: The Rise and Fall of a Caring Society.
Murphy is quick to add, though, that in fairness to Canada, other developed nations have also come close to receiving failing grades in their responses to homelessness, most of them falling short of addressing root causes. The main problem, she says, is that in general, senior national government officials see homelessness as a city problem and have offload much of the responsibility onto municipalities. And while cities scramble to meet the needs as best they can, at the city level, solutions are makeshift at best. Only a comprehensive national strategy can make a major and lasting difference.A Hardening of Attitudes
To their credit, city councilors across the country have recognized and responded to the steadily growing problem of homelessness. Cities have poured increasing amounts of money into emergency shelters since the late 1970s, and more recently, some Canadian cities have established task forces in an effort to get beyond the crisis-driven responses of the past two decades. As well, in an attempt to pressure the federal government to take a more active role, the mayors and councils of Canada’s ten largest cities passed resolution in late 1998 declaring homelessness a national disaster.
At the same time, however, city councils have begun responding to a growing public irritation emerging in the 1990s with the whole issue of homelessness. New, more rigid attitudes toward the homeless first appeared in a few American cities in the form of by-laws restricting public begging and automobile windshield washing by the homeless (squeegie kids). Often, the stated reason for enacting these new tougher by-laws was out of concern for public safety. However, Murphy believes that another reason lay behind them. She writes that, “In some if not most cases, concern about the effect of panhandling on tourists was the real issue” (p.15).
Tougher attitudes also began appearing in Canadian cities during this period. Some elected officials, reflecting the hardening attitudes of the general public downtown merchants, openly called the homeless “pests”, “intimidators,” and “thugs.” Winnipeg was the first city to turn hardening attitudes into tougher legislation and in 1995 passed a by-law restricting public begging. Those who violated the by-law could be fined up to $1,000 or spend up to six months in jail. Winnipeg’s by-law became the general model and variations of it were enacted in major Canadian cities throughout the rest of the 1990s with local police forces rigorously enforcing it.
As in most cities, a great deal pressure was put on Toronto’s city council to pass such a by-law, but after considerable debate council voted it down in 1998 on advice of the city’s lawyers who suspected that “the city had no legal authority to regulate panhandling and might even be violating the Canadian Charter of Rights” (p.17). Nevertheless, a year later, a new approach spear-headed by the Province of Ontario in the form of the Safe Streets Act of 1999 was proposed that would allow Toronto to achieve the desired results of the scrapped city by-law.
From the time of their appearance both in Canada and the United States these anti-vagrancy, anti-begging by-laws have been and continue to be challenged in courts with varying degrees of success. One of the most notable decisions by a North American judge occurred in the early 1990s after the New York Transit Authority tried to crack down on panhandlers in subway stations. A federal district court judge found that panhandling was a form of free speech protected by the Constitution. He wrote:
”While the government has an interest in preserving the quality of urban life, this interest must be discounted where the regulation has the principle effect of keeping a public problem involving human beings out of sight and therefore out of mind” (p.18).
What lay behind this and similar court decisions that have been handed down in recent years is the fundamental belief that the existence of poverty and homelessness in our cities cannot simply be blamed on the poor themselves thereby justifying our bullying them off the streets and into hiding
. Rather, this decision suggests that society shares at least some measure of responsibility in creating poverty and homelessness and so must actively participate in their eradication.By permitting beggars to openly beg on our streets we who are not beggars are kept constantly reminded that something is dreadfully wrong in our society, and especially so at a time of such historic prosperity.
As for the poor themselves, Murphy captures their reality well when she writes: "In asking for help and a place to put their heads down, the homeless are simply trying to stay alive. More than anything, one wonders why they would even want to stay alive” (p.18)The Root Causes of Homelessness in Canada (and the US)
After several years of careful research regarding the root causes of homelessness in Canada and working in the field social services, Murphy concludes the following:
“At the root of homelessness is poverty and the shocking reality is that [in Canada] we are now tolerating a level of poverty that leaves so many without a roof over their heads. Beyond the root cause of poverty we also tolerate a housing situation in our cities that provides little or no accommodation the poor can afford. The formula is simple: combine a growing number of poor and a growing number of expensive housing units and we have people on the streets. Add to this a failure to recognize that the mentally ill [many of whom are homeless since government policies of de-institutionalization], cannot manage on their own, economically or even with the simplest of life’s demands, and we have even more people on the streets” (p.19).
In summary, the problem of homelessness can be described fundamentally as a lack of housing the poor can afford
. Said another way: there are too many poor people and not enough low-income places for them to live. Thus to understand the problem of homelessness we need to understand why there are so many poor people and why there are so few places to live which they can afford. In the final section of this introductory article a brief overview of these root causes is presented, and in the subsequent articles in this series on Homelessness in Canada, each cause will be examined in detail.
- Cause #1: Increase in the Number of Poor People
- In Canada the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and there’s a lot more poor percentage-wise. From the ten-year period between 1986 and 1996 the population of Canada increased by 14 percent, and so we would expect a corresponding increase in the number of Canadians living below the official poverty line set by the federal government. Instead we find that there were 30 percent more Canadians living in poverty at the end of this period, a rate which was more than double that warranted by population increase of 14 percent. The existence and increase of poverty in Canada today is a complex issue involving a variety of political, economic and social factors which will be further explored in an upcoming article in this series. Suffice it to say that there are now more poor people in Canada proportionately than there has been since the Great Depression.
- Cause #2: Decrease in the Number of Low-income housing units
- Low-income individuals and families have traditionally lived in the downtown of a city for a variety of economic reasons. In post-World War Two North America, sub-urbanization, moving to the suburbs, marked the rise in wealth of the middle class, leaving the innercity to those of lower income levels. However, in the past two decades especially, this trend has been reversed as increasing numbers of middle class professionals are preferring to make their homes in the downtown area close to where they work. For example, in Ottawa in 1971, the percent of people in the downtown workforce holding a university degree was 10 percent and the those holding white-collar jobs was 42 percent. By 1996, those figures had soared to 39 and 91 percent respectively, showing that blue-collar and menial work had been all but eliminated from the downtown core of the city.
As the professional middle class desires to live in the innercity they directly compete with the poor for existing housing units. Affordable multi-family rental dwellings are converted and “restored” into upscale single-family homes. Rooming houses are sold and demolished and replaced with high-rise condominiums, and a whole range of similarly oriented activities take place to make room for those who wish to live in a newly rehabilitated downtown. The process has been aptly dubbed “Gentrification.” Between 1971 and 1996 this process has resulted in a combined net loss of 250,000 housing units in Canada’s four major cities reducing the population density by 25 percent.
Another key factor contributing to absence of sufficient affordable downtown dwellings has been the withdrawal by the Federal Government from supporting new social housing in the 1980s offloading the responsibility to the provinces. The number of new low-income units each year plummeted. Most provinces cut back their support immediately while well-off Ontario continued funding low-income housing for a time. However, in 1995, it too closed the door on any new social housing.
- Cause #3: De-institutionalization of Canada’s Mentally Ill Population
- Finally, there is another important factor which has given rise to the levels of homelessness we are experiencing today and that is the closing of Canada’s hospitals and institutions for the mentally ill over the past 30 years. As Murphy writes: “With breakthroughs in medication and with the best of intentions, the advice of the medical experts in the 1960s was that psychiatric patients in mental institutions would have more successful rehabilitation on the outside” (p.20). Over the next 15 years the majority of Canada’s mental institutions were emptied of their patients and closed down.
The general plan was that the money that was saved in operating these institutions would be redirected to a network of community-level support structures where the mentally-ill would now find the help they needed without the dehumanizing confines of an institution. The problem, however, was and still is that the money formerly spent on institutions had not been shifted to non-institutional community-based care. Murphy writes, “It had disappeared, leaving former or potential mental patients with as little care as they were given in the mid-19th century” (p.20). And again Murphy writes, “Rescued from dead storage, the mentally ill have been moved from the protective structure of four walls into a chaotic urban environment with no walls” (p.20). Keeping in mind that recent studies have found that 20 to 35 percent of all homeless people have been treated for psychiatric disorders, we get a sense of how serious and tragic this problem is.