Business on board for homeless plan

VancouverSun.com – News
October 8, 2010.   By Susan Papadionissiou and Alice Sundberg, Special to the Sun

How bad does it have to be before we fix it? How many people have to identify it as one of the most pressing concerns before action is taken? The social safety net that once kept the bottom from falling out from under the most poor and vulnerable Canadians is shredding.

Homelessness is one of the most visible ways we see this.

Solutions cost money and housing is particularly expensive -as anyone who makes a capital investment in property knows all too well. But homelessness is even more expensive.

Over the past two decades, Canadians have been living and paying for the ever increasing cost of our collective failure to keep up the public investment in affordable housing.

Most of us see the social costs -the impact on both health and quality of life of individuals and communities. But homelessness has many hard costs as well. Study after study looking at how much it costs to maintain people who are homeless versus how much it costs to maintain people in housing -even taking into account the cost of the housing -reaches the same conclusion. Housing wins every time. With housing there is less psychiatric hospital time, less medical hospital time, less court time, less jail time, less paramedic time, less police time and less security guard time. Saving time in these areas saves money – as much as $12,000 per person, per year.

The need for a national affordable housing strategy has been identified by numerous organizations across the country as urgent. Municipalities have been among the leading voices calling for coordinated action.

In December ’09, the Senate Subcommittee on Cities released its unanimous report entitled In from the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness. Among its many recommendations was one saying that the federal government, in collaboration with provincial governments, representatives of municipal governments, first nation organizations, and other housing providers, develop a national housing and homelessness strategy.

The committee said: “The most visible sign of the failure of our income security and housing systems and programs to meet the basic needs of individuals and families is homelessness.”

On Sept. 27, the federal government responded and agreed that many of the recommendations fall within areas of shared responsibility and there is a need for coordination and partnership; however, it did not commit to implementing any of the recommendations contained in the report.

Coincidently, on the same day, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce adopted a resolution at its annual general meeting calling for the federal government to establish benchmarks (within the existing federal budget) for the creation of a national plan to end homelessness. This resolution was submitted by the Burnaby Board of Trade and grew out of the organization’s position paper on homelessness developed in 2009.

The position paper was a response to a survey carried out by the Burnaby Board of Trade that, among other things, asked its members to highlight what they viewed as the most pressing social issues. Homelessness and lack of affordable housing were identified as the two top issues that should be addressed.

The position paper outlined six areas of concern in relation to homelessness and affordable housing: 1) Homelessness is bad for business; 2) Homelessness is expensive; 3) Homelessness is a waste of human capital and productivity; 4) Homelessness reflects poorly on our society; 5) Homeless numbers are increasing; and 6) Affordable housing is in short supply.

The Burnaby Board of Trade position paper noted that although Metro Vancouver has a plan to solve homelessness it lacks the resources to implement it.

Unless we develop a clear strategy to end homelessness within a reasonable time frame, communities, businesses and individuals across Canada will continue to be plagued by this crisis. Homelessness Action Week is Oct. 10 to 16.

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