Over the past decade, Canada has seen a proliferation of high quality, thoughtful research on homelessness. We now know that homelessness is caused by a combination of individual and systemic factors from unemployment and disability, to lack of coordinated services and a hostile housing market. While the solutions to homelessness are complex, the cause is simple: a lack of affordable housing.
For every tragic incident in the world today, there are countless more women and men humanitarians -- changemakers -- making the world a better place in their own respective capacities. Light is more potent and powerful in effacing darkness; let's each of us resolve to spread more light around us, in our communities, and throughout our world.
Despite a strong economy, Saskatchewan has a deficit in access to safe and affordable housing. The Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership performed a "point-in-time" count of people without a home on a given night and found 405 people. The number from these counts has steadily increased. What's especially disturbing is that 45 of the homeless individuals in this year's count were children. Across Canada, an estimated 235,000 people will experience homelessness in the course of a year, with 35,000 homeless on any given night. Beyond those who are homeless, many Canadians struggle to maintain the housing they have.
Earlier this summer, Canada's first transitional housing dedicated to LGBT youth opened in Toronto--the YMCA's Sprott House. Reading about this great initiative raised our awareness about an issue that needs to be on the radar of all Canadians -- the unacceptable rate of LGBT youth who have no place to call home. LGBT youth become homeless for much of the same reasons as other young people -- family conflict, abuse, mental health issues and addiction. LGBT youth also experience higher rates of mental health and addiction issues in large part because of discrimination.
A lot of people have the perception that shelter life today is for the junkie, the uneducated, the criminal or the battered wife seeking refuge from her abusive partner. In my experience, most of the people I have met in the shelter system are there for a variety of reasons. In the shelter I have met bank tellers, writers, students and even retirees.
I've become used to not working like I became used to not being able to afford and wear perfume. When I told someone that I'd hit bottom, he responded, "Then the only way is up!" So I'm digging my way back. In one way homelessness has liberated me and reawakened me to what I most love doing. Since I don't have four walls of my own, a spouse or dependents, the world really is my oyster. Stripped of the old predictable life and strait jacket, it's on to the new creative way of living. As the saying goes, "No risk! No reward!"
Before any social progress can be made, mental illness has to be acknowledged as a real and powerful determinant of health which affects all social classes, but plays a greater role not only in the lives of those who are displaced, but in some cases also contributes to their displacement and state of living. It is those living on the streets who are the most affected by the stigma associated with mental illness. Yet the stigma is alive and well for those of us who are fortunate enough to continue working or have a strong support system advocating for us while we too struggle to climb the walls of our own personal hell.
Truth is, that wasn't normal by any means. As a society, our relationship with homeless people is simple; either you drop a coin or walk by. It's impossible to connect with people as people because we let ourselves get divided only by borders, but also by our occupations, social status, and other arbitrary self-imposed barriers.
It's time to get "un-political" and just plain old "reasonable." Let's hope that time off from the hectic pace of Parliament Hill over a long weekend offered an opportunity for reflection -- especially around Bill C-23, the so-called Fair Elections Act, which has been hotly contested, reviewed, analyzed and refuted for the past two months. The government should spend the same amount of effort to promote voting and protect the Charter right to vote as they have towards marketing a flawed and chastised Bill. Let's move past the false advertising.