One in four Canadians have depended on social services: poll

Posted on in Inclusion Debates

Source: — Authors: – Posted
May 25, 2011.    Postmedia News, Toronto

Despite new data suggesting about 40% of people cited in a Salvation Army report believe Canada’s homeless population choose to live on the street or in shelters, a surprising amount of Canadians have first-hand knowledge of being homeless or in need of outside help to stay afloat.

The report — from the organization’s Dignity Project and titled Canada Speaks — found there was a clear division in the attitudes toward Canada’s homeless population, with more than half of those polled feeling that any money given directly to those on the street would do more harm than good. Some 60% of the people included in the Angus Reid survey said they believed money given to Canadians living on the street would be directed to drugs and alcohol, with 43% responding they never give money to homeless individuals.

Alarmingly, the report indicates that nearly 25% of Canadians have had to depend on services such as food banks or other charitable groups at some point during their lives, with 7%  reporting they had to sleep on the street or in a homeless shelter due to unavailable housing.

Provincially, respondents from British Columbia reported the highest rate of direct homelessness, with 10% of those surveyed indicating they had lived on the street or in shelters. The Maritime region was second highest, at 9%.

Nearly one in five Canadians felt those dealing with housing issues are directly to blame for their situation, with 30% saying a solid work ethic is the only obstacle to overcome to get off the street. Nearly 20% said homeless people “still have it pretty good.”

Regardless of their personal feelings on why homeless people end up in that situation, an overwhelming majority of Canadians — 93% — believe nobody in the country should be homeless and housing access should be a fundamental right, according to 86% of the poll respondents. Almost all those polled said the homeless population “deserve a sense of dignity.”

Mental illness was also an area of focus in the survey, with it being cited as a suspected contributing cause of homelessness by 40 per cent of the respondents. About one-third of those polled said they “are always a little worried they might be harassed or robbed,” and more than 30% said “homeless people scare them.”

The Salvation Army was shedding some light on its May Red Shield Campaign, which aims to raise money for impoverished Canadians. Money raised during the month goes toward social services, such as shelters, substance counselling and job training.

The Angus Reid survey was conducted on April 18 and sampled 1,009 Canadians. The results are considered accurate within 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.

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