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.
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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