Hot! We must address homelessness

WinnipegSun.com – opinion/columnists – Raise welfare, build more housing, create jobs
October 02, 2012.    Floyd Perras

If there is one thing we have learned from the climate change debate in the last decade, it’s that simply mitigating a problem won’t actually cause it to stop.

The same can be said for homelessness.

And just like climate change, most people agree there is a homelessness problem in Canada — we just disagree on how severe it is and how to best fix it.

If you ask me, part of the solution lies in raising welfare rates, creating more housing and creating jobs that match people’s capacity.

I know raising welfare rates is an unpopular opinion — but so was reducing carbon emission rates decades ago.

Today, no political party can run for power without a green component in its platform. In fact, in the global climate change discussion there are desires to get back to the emission levels of the early 1990s.

The same should go for welfare rates.

This week, minimum wage rose by 25 cents to compensate for an increasing cost of living. That’s because governments realize, rightly so, that inflation makes it harder for low-income people to get by.

Can you imagine if minimum wage had stayed the same since 1993? You couldn’t live on that.

Neither can people on social assistance, whose rates for basic needs in Manitoba have not changed since then. Taking inflation into account, they only have 65% of the money they did back then.

Today, a single person on welfare gets $485 per month to cover housing, food, transportation and everything else.

Another thing hasn’t changed since 1993 is social housing.

In 1993 the federal government turned social housing over to the provinces. Very little has been built since in Manitoba. That means that not only are welfare rates too low to live on, there also isn’t enough housing for those unable to compete.

That’s backwards thinking — and it contributes to people living on the streets today because it creates impossible circumstances.

Band-Aid solutions

Yes, we can keep plugging gaps with Band-Aid solutions. We can help people break the cycle of poverty, achieve better health outcomes and shake their addictions.

But we are doing little to prevent more people from falling into the same trap. We are merely catching the water at the bottom, not turning off the tap at the top.

The problem with raising welfare rates is that it will cost governments money, which means it would cost taxpayers money. That’s why it’s unpopular. Why should people give away part of their paycheque to help those who aren’t collecting one at all?

Because a rising number of homeless means increasing health-care costs, increasing social services costs, increasing clinical costs, increasing emergency shelter costs, increasing unemployment services, increasing mental health services, increasing addictions services — all of which will come from taxpayers money anyway.

A thriving society is one where all members are able to contribute.

Addressing homelessness will only improve our province and help Manitoba become a more productive place to live.

The lack of housing and the rising number of homeless is the gravest social issue facing our province today.

And just like climate change, ignoring the problem doesn’t mean it will fix itself.

— Floyd Perras is executive director of Siloam Mission.

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2 Comments

  1. Homelessness is evidentially a growing issue and does need to be addressed. However, raising welfare rates isn’t an effective way to address this matter. On the grounds that tax payers having to give more of their money, this is an issue because it isn’t just people who are economically advanced in society that pay taxes, if that was the case it would be effective but basically anyone who makes an income is forced to pay into taxes including those who are only receiving minimum wage, so this could just end up adding to the problem weather then preventing it or helping it in anyway. This would result in more people having to rely on the state and with higher welfare rates people would be more interested in relying the system and dwelling within it because it’s a guarantee, a minimum wage job is not and in a sense will just a person “by”. New job opportunities and a raise on a minimum wage should be the way of addressing homelessness, getting the people on their feet without relying on the government safety nets, which in many cases are what put people on the street in the first place because government safety nets don’t provide sufficient enough groundings. I don’t believe the answer is as simple as making insufficient safety nets sufficient; this can’t be done without hurting tax payers, which could be people close to facing poverty themselves.

    The government needs to put more effort in the prevention of homelessness and the reliance on social security. Create more jobs that involve less co-operate greed, allowing people of lower income to prevail with higher wages. The welfare state doesn’t give homeless people enough sufficient income to survive, however it shouldn’t be what people rely on to survive anyways. Housing increases, minimum wage increases and job increases in my opinion is the effective way to prevent homelessness. The government works to much in helping homelessness rather than protecting them from getting there in the first place. There should be more assistance in providing people jobs in order to support themselves, this can’t be done without an increase in minimum wage or job increases. I realize this is easier said than done but it’s my opinion on the matter.

  2. Melissa Lindstrom

    In our economy today, Canada is facing major inflation. The price of everything in this country has risen significantly while minimum wage has barely increased over the last few years; it surprising to me how we can survive on so little while everything costs so much. Being given 485$ a month to cover housing, food and transportation does not even come close to the actual monthly cost of living.

    In order to obtain a job that will provide a high enough income to survive off of, post-secondary education seems to be a general requirement. But, when you’re barely surviving on 485$ a month and need to have full-time employment somewhere just to obtain minimum wage so that you can feed yourself, post-secondary education isn’t always going to be realistic. Sure, there’s financial assistance for students (ex; OSAP, bank loans, etc) but when you’re receiving welfare there are certain cutbacks and restrictions regarding how much assistance for school you will actually receive.

    I agree with Ashley’s comment regarding the fact that raising welfare does not directly address the issue of finding jobs for the homeless and that there should be a raise in minimum wage but personally I find that a large issue with the workforce today is the competition. It is easy enough to tell a corporation to have less greed in regards to hiring somebody, but that oppression will not just go away over night and it is unlikely that major corporations will ever choose an individual without a post-secondary education over one that does have a post-secondary background.

    I believe that there should be an increase in welfare rates. I feel like a raise will give those living in poverty a better chance at being able to afford their basic needs; while also giving them more options and room to rise in society in hopes to eventually beat the vicious cycle of poverty that is happening right now.

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