On June 19th, Homeless Hub released their State of Homelessness in Canada 2013. I, along with many friends within the not-for-profit sector, was eagerly awaiting the data as the issue of accurately documenting the numbers related to homelessness has been a long standing challenge.
According to the research, on any given night in Canada, there are 30,000 people homeless; a staggering number. These are people -- men, women, and families -- who are unsheltered, in emergency shelters, or in temporary "provisional" accommodations. The report also notes that as many of 50,000 Canadians may be "hidden homeless;" those who are staying with friends, family, or relatives, but it can be difficult to gather correct data for these instances.
Despite the fact the homelessness is obviously a very real issue within Canada, the document represents a number of encouraging developments.
To begin with, this is the first real documentation of the homeless issue within Canada. I have been actively volunteering and supporting homeless causes from a very young age, and while I have always been told about the severity of the homeless issue within Canada from frontline social service workers, never has there been a concise document which has gone to such lengths to properly research and tally the homeless population. We now have tangible numbers to accompany the firsthand testimonials from those working with the homeless.
Because Canada is an affluent country, it is often difficult to explain to people that there is a large homeless problem within our borders. Often the issue is passed off as a few people on the streets of a major city, rather than a national issue effecting thousands that don't fit the stereotypical description of homeless. This document highlights the many degrees of homelessness, and provides statistics to how widespread the issue is within Canada.
The report also represents a benchmark for our country to monitor our progress, and whether or not the preventative actions we take in the future are helping to solve the problem. The conclusions drawn from the research are that preventative steps need to be taken to end homelessness, not just temporary fixes for those currently on the streets; and having breakdowns by effected regions will allow for the ability to gauge the effectiveness of varying programs being put in place.
On a personal level, the report represents validation for everything that my Bargains Group team and I have been working on for the past 14 years.
Since founding our two Engage and Change initiatives, we have worked closely with those on the frontlines to help provide temporary relief to those who are forced to sleep on our streets. While permanent, stable, affordable housing for the homeless is the end goal, this is the type of large scale initiative that won't happen overnight, so knowing that the relief provided by Project Water and Project Winter Survival is making a difference for those on the streets it makes it even easier to organize these projects year after year.
For the future, the report will allow us to target areas that are most in need, to make sure we can help provide temporary relief to those who are forced to sleep on our streets. We now have documentation of the areas hardest hit by poverty, and can make sure our initiatives reach these areas.
It may be easy to turn a blind eye to the homeless person you pass on a daily basis, it isn't so easy to ignore the staggering numbers released in this document.