02/25/2013 12:28 EST | Updated 04/27/2013 05:12 EDT

The Bill That Could Help Solve Homelessness

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DETROIT, MI - FEBRUARY 24: A homeless man approaches a couple walking on a sidewalk February 24, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. The city of Detroit has faced serious economic challenges in the past decade, with a shrinking population and tax base while trying to maintain essential services. A financial review team issued a finding on February 19 identifying the city as being under a 'financial emergency.' Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has 30 days from the report's issuance to officially declare a financial emergency, which could result in the governor appointing an emergency financial manager to oversee Detroit's municipal government. (Photo by J.D. Pooley/Getty Images)

This week, MPs will vote on whether bill C-400 should be sent to committee. The bill seeks to establish a national housing strategy which I have been advocating for many years.

I think all of us understand intuitively the importance of having decent shelter. A home anchors a person, a family, provides the foundation for higher educational attainment and leads to greater stability in the work place. Health experts also tell us that adequate housing is a key determinant of health and long-term health outcomes.

Today in Canada, four million people are struggling to find affordable housing. These are the most vulnerable among us -- lower income Canadians or those living on a fixed income, such as seniors.

By addressing the housing issue we can also address homelessness as well. Helping the homeless is not just about doing the morally right thing, it's also about dollars and cents. The fact is that it is more expensive for us to leave someone on the street than to provide them with decent housing and support services.

There have been several studies that show the average homeless person costs society roughly $100,000 a year including health costs. The annual cost per person drops to about $35,000 annually if that person is given a long-term home with supports.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of the Tipping Point, wrote an article for the New Yorker about "Million Dollar Murray" -- a man who lived on the street, in jails, in hospital emergency rooms and hostels. He suffered from addictions, and in the end died on the street. The "million dollars" refers to the cost to the taxpayers. How much better and cheaper it would have been to help him overcome these problems.

So we need to do a better job on both housing and homelessness. C-400 is a framework for moving ahead. There are some details that need to be examined at committee, including the role of provincial and territorial governments. The best role that Ottawa can play is to provide a long-term, stable source of funding for new affordable housing projects and for the maintenance of existing housing projects.

Housing and homelessness is not benign. It affects us all. It costs us all. It's time to move forward with a national housing strategy as provided for in bill C-400.

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