Unlike those of us with homes and adequate incomes, people living in poverty are targeted and ticketed for activities necessary to their survival: sleeping in a park, vending goods on the sidewalk, or even setting up a basic shelter such as a tarp or a box in order to survive the night. Municipal bylaws prohibiting those activities stand in the way of people's safety and survival.
It can take less than 10 seconds for a youth to become homeless. In York Region, homeless youth, more often than not, do not fit the stereotypical profile. Unlike urban centres, these young people are often homeless not just due to poverty. They stem from middle-class families and end up on the street for a variety of reasons.
What we have done for far too long is simply not working. Even with all the social supports in place, the resulting income is often only enough to maintain a family in poverty. At their worst, existing policies and programs actually entrap people in poverty. This is why we need a new way. A basic income would work as a tax credit administered through the taxation system similar to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors. If someone earns less or has less than the poverty line, they would simply be topped up to a point above the poverty line.
Each year, 360⁰kids -- an organization that provides a range of services to York Region's homeless youth -- encourages local community members to experience homelessness, just for one night a year. Last March, our group made it through some bone-chilling temperatures. I will do it again this year. For more than 300 youth in a region that's home to large detached homes and flourishing businesses, they've lost count of how many nights they've been homeless. It's an issue that doesn't get enough attention.
I can't truly explain how exhausting, challenging and incredibly cold this night was. I had been given a real-life scenario of a homeless youth as a part of 360°kids' 360°Experience. Our experience had us stepping into the shoes of a 16-year-old male, who was unsafe at home and had to leave quickly to save himself.
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.
The holiday season is truly a magical time of year. It is a time for giving, reflection, and appreciation. Many individuals and organizations come together and show thanks by donating what they can to those in need. Unfortunately, the holidays will not be magical for everyone, especially not for a high proportion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and 2-Spirit (LGBTQ2S) youth who have experienced familial, societal, and institutional rejection. The holidays can be an especially lonely time for many, particularly for those without a safe place to call home.
To everyone around me, it looked like our family had it all. The truth was that I lived in a house that was filthy and piled high with debris and animal waste. I was 11years old when my father began to sexually abuse me. I had become accustomed to keeping so many secrets by then that I just added this one to the list. I hoped the abuse would stop. I was terrified and lonely. I am living proof that it takes a community to lift a person up. The day I left my abusive family home was the day I stepped into uncertainty and poverty.
Families in Canada fighting for evidence-based care for relatives living with psychotic disorders should see the tenacity of the American families. And Democratic Americans abroad, like me, can let our representatives know that we want the mental health system to begin to meet the needs of people with the most severe illnesses.
Wendell (Woody) Cormier, a paranoid schizophrenic homeless man from Toronto, got up to the microphone last Thursday and told the audience bluntly, "If you force a man to stay outside and freeze to death, and then blame the cold; it's like making a man walk the plank and blaming the water for him drowning."
My patient reminded me that day of something that I have always known -- access to housing is not just a matter of rights and justice, it's also a matter of health. When his mental health deteriorates, he can indeed access the hospital care he needs, but if providing him access to housing can help keep him healthier, costs us less, and is the right thing to do, then why not do it for everyone? This federal election, when we vote, we must vote for housing for all, and no matter who is elected, we must call on them to take action immediately.
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.