As the thermometer begins to drop and we hunker down for another winter, we might not realize that as we enjoy the warmth and comfort of our homes, there are roughly 35,000 Canadians who find themselves without shelter on any given night. Approximately 15,000 people access emergency shelters in Canada annually.
Homelessness is still seen by many as an urban problem where it’s not uncommon to see people living on the streets of cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax. The fact is not all homeless people live on the street under cardboard boxes and panhandle to make ends meet.
The Nova Scotia Housing and Homelessness Network defines homelessness as people staying "in a shelter, with friends or family, in a public place, or other site not intended for human habitation for at least 10 of 90 days." Unfortunately, the fastest growing pocket of the homeless population today is youth ages 19 and younger.
Here at home, homelessness may not be a very visible issue in Cumberland County, but if you speak to service providers, health care and justice officials who deal with social concerns on a daily basis, you’ll quickly learn that there are folks who have no fixed address.
There are many more who struggle with poverty and as a result can’t afford adequate housing and live in substandard conditions.
Locally, the St. Vincent de Paul Society at Holy Family Parish in Amherst brought awareness to the situation in this community and the surrounding area by hosting a Homelessness Awareness Walk last Sunday.
Many may not realize that in 1996, the federal government transferred responsibility for social housing to provincial governments, leaving Canada as virtually the only major developed nation without a fully funded national commitment to housing.
As a result, Canadians living at or below the poverty line have been left extremely vulnerable and provinces like Nova Scotia have struggled to create an effective poverty reduction strategy.
The Trudeau Liberal government has committed to restoring federal government leadership on affordable housing by investing in a comprehensive National Housing Strategy which would include a 10-year, $40-billion investment in social infrastructure. Most housing advocates are applauding the government’s pledge to enshrine the right to adequate housing as a fundamental human right in Canadian law.
It is one thing to say it and quite another to act on it. The fact is that the country’s marginalized and most vulnerable face a crisis in housing now. Many of the measures announced recently by the prime minister in the document Making Housing More Affordable won’t take effect until after the next federal election. The other caveat is that much of the investment has to come with matching provincial and territorial dollars.
Telling someone living in poverty that adequate and affordable housing is their human right rings hollow when they’re living in a shelter or don’t have the money to heat their substandard housing unit.
Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA