Debunking myths

No one in their right mind would choose to be homeless

(Charity Intelligence, report 2009).  Most fall into homelessness due to one unexpected event, such as job loss or divorce.   Most homeless are hidden – sleeping on couches with friends, multiple families sharing an apartment.  Homelessness can happen to you.   “But for the grace of God, there go I??”  People do not “choose” to be homeless.  And there isn’t necessarily anything “wrong” with that person, they may be unfortunate.

Fastest growing segment is families and youth

Only 10% of homeless are due to addictions and mental health issues; a lot are single men who are hard to employ.  These are the most obvious because they are chronically left without housing and they spend their days on the streets.  Even though they are the most obvious segment and the smallest segment, this segment is the most expensive to house and treat.

Don’t give up

There will always be homeless people, we can’t stop that.  What we can do is shrink the time people are in a state of homelessness.  Calgary’s goal is to create enough affordable housing so that the wait time in shelters is less than 7 days.  In Toronto, the wait time for affordable housing is 6.4 years;  special circumstances can boost you to the top of the list, for example, abused women with kids may have a wait time of 7 months.

Homelessness may seem like one big, insolvable problem and it may feel easier to give up.   But there is something we can do.  Check out the ideas in the Action list.

Homeless people want to work

Benefits from Ontario Works (welfare) do not cover basic needs.  The monthly income for a single person is $606, which must cover all needs including housing, compared to the average Toronto rent of $1,000.   Most homeless people prefer even the most basic job (minimum wage is $1,555/month) compared to the indignity of begging or asking friends for help.   They are not lazy and “just want to live off benefits”.

It’s the right thing to do

From an economic perspective the approach makes perfect sense. Helping the chronically homeless find and stay housed is cheaper than the alternative.  But from a moral perspective, some people may feel it doesn’t seem fair.  Some may object to giving people housing before they “deserve” it.  We as a society need to focus on the economics to fix the problem.

Helping the hidden homeless gives them dignity.  Although they don’t touch the “housing system” and therefore do not cost society immediately.  Safe and affordable housing reduces the long term, hard-to-calculate costs of disrupted childhoods and stressed parents.