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Gordon Laird - Homelssness in a Growth Economy: Canada's 21st Century Paradox


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Gordon Lairds slide show presentation for the Community Plan York Region launch

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Gordon Laird - Homelssness in a Growth Economy: Canada's 21st Century Paradox

  1. 1. 1 Two reasons for this report, since Canada isn’t lacking information or research on homelessness. First, the double standard Canada has maintained for more than a decade: throughout the 1990s, when it came to debt and tax reduction we enforced fierce fiscal discipline, yet with homelessness, we simply neglected the public and human costs. Second, much of today’s homeless population is needlessly homeless, for many reasons, the most common being income insecurity. The phenomena of government and policy-created homelessness posed major ethical and leadership concerns -- and is a crucial aspect of creating solutions that avoid past pitfalls and mistakes.
  2. 2. Canada Median Household Income 1990-2005 Wellesley Institute, 2008 2
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  4. 4. SHELTER Homelessness in a growth economy: Canada’s 21st century paradox 4 Here’s our paradox: Canada is one of the world’s most robust economies, a country that consistently scores top mark’s on the UN’s human development index, yet we have a chronic homeless crisis. Between 150,000 to 300,000 Canadians are homeless. And depending on whose numbers you read, between 1.4 and 2.7 million Canadians face serious housing affordability problems.
  5. 5. 5 My work on homelessness began almost by accident; I Came to Nunavut to research climate change in February 2001 and to talk with Inuit hunters and elders about floe ice, polar bears and weather patterns
  6. 6. 6 I was interviewing Inuit hunters in Iqaluit; it turned out that some were also homeless. Most hunters were just barely getting by, taking part-time jobs to supplement cost of living. An estimated 19 per cent of Nunavut’s population was relatively homeless in 2003. And approximately one in seven are without adequate shelter.
  7. 7. 7 This is Insiq Shoo, homeless in Iqaluit at minus 30; Insiq had been homeless for nearly a year when I had met him. Iqaluit’s men’s shelter has only 20 beds and there are no areas for mats on the floor. Like others, he spent his daytimes wandering Iqaluit looking for warmth and food, while trying to arrange education and social housing for himself. After some jail time in Yellowknife and several years in and out of Iqaluit’s drunk tank, Shoo was trying to cobble together enough money for his own snowmobile. He quit drugs and drinking several years ago. But if he wanted to hunt independently again – to be a real hunter – he’d have to finish filling out the Northern Affairs assistance application. And he needed help because he was still learning how to read.
  8. 8. 8 In the end, Insiq Shoo found housing and helped launch Iqaluit’s first food bank. A happy ending, more or less. His life improved greatly once he was able to secure social housing. Two lessons from the Arctic: First, homelessness can be found nearly everywhere in Canada. And second, housing insecurity and housing in-affordability is a primary obstacle even for chronic, “hard to reach” homeless, who may be battling mental health, addictions or educational barriers. The presence or absence of housing is arguably the major determinant of success. Which has rightly inspired the Housing First movement that originated in the United States.
  9. 9. National Trends • One-in-four Canadian households pay 30% or more of their income on housing • More than 300,000 Canadians experience homelessness annually • Federal housing investments of $2 billion in 2008 are at their lowest level since 2002 • 2008 federal housing are at their lowest per capita level in two decades Wellesley Institute, 2008 9
  10. 10. 10 We live in a house crazy society -- with crazy housing markets. In the United States, an estimated 3 million homes will have been foreclosed by 2010. Yet Canada is not immune from the effects of booming housing markets. Especially here in Alberta. Across North America, many middle- and lower-income households are suffering: long-term erosion of housing affordability, increase in housing- related debt, as well as income insecurity and underemployment.
  11. 11. Housing Markets New Housing Price Index (national) 53% increase in new housing 160 price index 1997-2007 120 CMHC, 2007 80 40 0 1997 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 11 From real estate industry: Between 1997 and 2007, average home prices in Canada almost doubled, from $154,606 to $307,265, Re/Max, February 2008 The number of homes sold nationally rose over 57 percent to more than 500,000 last year from about 300,000 in 1997. 2007 prediction by CIBC World Markets that average Canadian housing prices will double by 2026
  12. 12. York rental vacancy rates, 2002-2007 Canada average 2.900% 2.417% 1.933% 1.450% 0.967% 0.483% 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 12 One of the problems of a this kind of housing market is that high house prices, high rents, and low vacancy rates are increasingly connected. According to most recent CMHC data, average rent in Alberta increased nearly 17 per cent last year -- $913 per month in October 2007, up from $781 in the October 2006. Did Alberta renters receive a 17% pay raise? Across Canada, between 1991 and 2001, Low-end rents increased 20 per cent more than low-end individual incomes. (FCM, 2008) In Canada, renter households in the lowest income quarter have highly elevated – 18 times average – likelihood of housing affordability problems.
  13. 13. “Fewer than 9 per cent of all housing units completed in Canada’s largest cities between 2001 and 2006 were rental units.” - Federation of Canadian Municipalities, January 2008 13 Housing is a continuum. Housing insecurity affects everyone: owners, renters and the homeless. This is what we are learning. Despite Canadaʼs housing boom, weʼre failing to create housing, publicly and privately, that meets the needs of Canadians. Housing starts in 2008 continue to reflect this decade-long shortfall in rental supply, continuing under 10 per cent of all new housing. Canada continues to abandon many homeowners and renters to inaccessible markets by choosing a hands-off housing policy – arguably the root cause of todayʼs sub-prime crisis in America.
  14. 14. Rising cost of shelter, water & utilities, 1997-2006 14
  15. 15. Part-time labour growth 1997-2006 3,000 • Part-time employment has grown twice as fast as full-time employment, since 2001 2,500 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 15 Housing insecurity is tied to income erosion in many households. In Canada, part- time employment has grown twice as fast as full-time employment since 2001.
  16. 16. 16 And this is what happens: Canada has a growing population of working homeless In 2007, at the Calgary Drop In Centre, one of Canada’s largest homeless shelters 40.2 per cent of all residents reported that they work more than 32 hours a week. A majority of these employed homeless reported that they still could not afford accommodation in a city whose average 2006 rent was $851 per month. $10/hour is no longer a living wage in many Canadian cities This reality is economic entrapment: pushing people to choose between food and shelter, with just one rent increase away from homelessness.
  17. 17. SHELTER findings 17 In this report, we attempted something that many of our governments have not: to estimate a national cost to homelessness and try to place the issue within a 21st century context. It’s not an original idea, as the US and EU nations have been looking at the costs of homelessness for a number of years.
  18. 18. SHELTER findings • Street counts of homeless people across Canada have increased, sometimes at triple- digit rates • In 2005, the federal government estimated 150,000 homeless in Canada • Non-governmental sources estimate Canada’s true homeless population, not just those living in emergency shelters, ranges between 200,000 and 300,000 18 In 2006, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights urged Canadian governments to “address homelessness and inadequate housing as a national emergency,” BTW, the feds erased their “official” count sometime last fall The Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, Miloon Kothari, issued the following statement today: “The Federal Government needs to commit stable and long-term funding and programs to realize a comprehensive national housing strategy, and to co-ordinate actions among the provinces and territories, to meet Canada's housing rights obligations. The Special Rapporteur also noted that Canada needs to once again embark on a large scale building of social housing units across the country.”
  19. 19. SHELTER findings • Homelessness costs Canadian taxpayers between $4.5 and $6 billion annually, inclusive of health care, criminal justice, social services, and emergency shelter costs • Helping homeless people is not inherently expensive. The high cost of homelessness in Canada results from the role of homelessness as a proven multiplier of societal ills 19 So, what does our status quo cost? Homelessness costs Canadian taxpayers between $4.5 and $6 billion annually, inclusive of health care, criminal justice, social services, and emergency shelter costs Much of this expenditure represents the status quo cost of sustaining a growing population of homeless people in temporary shelters, hospital wards, welfare offices, non-profit organizations as well as the criminal justice system and mental health institutions; expenses are systemic and range well beyond the hundreds of millions spent on front-line homeless services. It’s about pushing folks with mental health issues and addictions into extreme environments. It’s about systems failure. It’s not because homeless services are inherently expensive. The high cost of homelessness in Canada results from the role of homelessness as a proven multiplier of societal ills: malnutrition, unemployment, addiction, mental illness, family strife and lack of income security are all intensified when an individual or household becomes homeless
  20. 20. SHELTER findings • Canada’s decade of inaction on homelessness, 1993 to 2004, cost Canadian taxpayers an estimated $49.5 billion, across all services and jurisdictions • Despite improvements, Canada continues to warehouse homeless people in shelters on a temporary basis, often at a greater cost than rent subsidy or affordable housing 20 It is ultimately more expensive to house homeless people on a temporary, emergency basis than it is to invest in solutions. For example: the daily cost of maintaining a bed in some shelters (transition beds for substance abusers, for example) is comparable to some of Canada’s low-security prisons. In 2006, the Wellesley Institute determined that Toronto taxpayers pay two and one- half times as much for homeless shelters as for rent supplements. FCM 2008: Costs of emergency responses to manage homelessness are four-to-ten times higher per day than the cost of providing transitional or supportive housing.
  21. 21. SHELTER findings Poverty is now the leading cause of homelessness in Canada • The 2005 Greater Vancouver Regional District found that 66 per cent of all homeless people surveyed cited “lack of income” or “cost of housing” as the main cause of homelessness • Canada’s “new homeless” population is diverse: families, women, Aboriginal Canadians, new Canadians, students and children – a broad demographic whose common trait is poverty. 21 Poverty is the leading cause of homelessness in Canada In 2005, the GVRD found that 66 per cent of all homeless people surveyed cited “lack of income” or “cost of housing” as the main cause of homelessness Of course, addiction and mental health issues still figure highly as contributing causes of homelessness, but given the surge in Canada’s “new homeless,” it is hardly universal. Family breakdowns and single motherhood are major causes of poverty in Canada and, I would wager, will be recognized as major homelessness causes in the future. In many homeless shelters across Canada, a significant percentage actually have jobs...
  22. 22. Who are the homeless? 22 Canada’s “new homeless” population is diverse: families, women, Aboriginal Canadians, new Canadians, students and children – a broad demographic whose common trait is poverty. And they can be found almost everywhere – towns, cities, suburbs. Inisiq, Iqaluit - because homelessness is not simply an urban issue Rob & Alison, Toronto - homeless youth, with children Whiz, Surry - it’s in the suburbs too Mary, Ottawa - it’s national, women over-represented David & Wanda - it happens to families
  23. 23. Solutions? 23 a street art project in Toronto
  24. 24. 24 This is one of Canada’s largest homeless shelters. Canada’s main response to homelessness during the 1990s? We built homeless shelters. What began as short-term emergency shelters became long-term. Income insecurity remains Canada’s greatest national challenge Over 32,000 people stayed in Toronto 's emergency shelters in 2003; nearly 5,000 were children.
  25. 25. Federal Housing Expenditure per capita 1989-2008 Wellesley Institute, 2008 25 For the past quarter-century, successive federal governments have slashed housing investments, cut programs and downloaded housing to the provinces and territories. There was a one-year surge in spending in 2007 as the government allocated $1.4 billion authorized by Parliament in 2005. By 2008, investment had dropped by 5% from 2006 – a cut equal to the biggest cuts during the mid-1990s. Per capita federal housing spending is at its lowest level in two decades.
  26. 26. Federation of Canadian Municipalities “National Action Plan” • End chronic homelessness in 10 years • “An average $3.35 billion annual strategic investment in housing could, in fact, improve Canada’s fortunes significantly.” • 26 Canada’s leading urban and not-for-profit agencies have offered viable strategies and solutions. In January 2008, for example, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities launched a National Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness, and estimated that an average $3.35 billion annual strategic investment in housing could, in fact, improve Canada’s fortunes significantly. By re-investing in existing social housing, as well as committing new resources to rent subsidies, assisted home ownership, and transitional and non-market housing, Canadians could see significant relief within a decade. Even better, perhaps, is the fact that Canada spends much of this money already.
  27. 27. Calgary Committee to End Homelessness “Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness” “In the future, [Calgary] could have as many as 15,000 people homeless on our streets on any given day. ...If nothing is done to address this problem, we estimate that the cumulative economic cost could be more than $9 billion in the next 10 years.” ... In fact, we estimate the 10 Year Plan can deliver a cumulative cost saving of over $3.6 billion.” 27 Calgaryʼs Plan: elimination of family homelessness in two years, retirement of 50 per cent of Calgaryʼs emergency shelter beds within five years, an 85 per cent reduction in the chronic homeless population within five years with the complete elimination of chronic homelessness in seven years, and a reduction in the maximum average stay in emergency shelters to less than seven days by the end of 2018.
  28. 28. New Investment, New Challenges • Federalism: at least three levels of government to manage • Evidenced in America: non-housing agendas can influence policy -- NIMBY, political influence, lack of leadership, policy conflicts • City-based plans raise concerns about further downloading of responsibilities and funding • Serious concerns about delivery of funding and quality of housing • Income insecurity remains one of Canada’s greatest national challenges 28 Governments, non-profit agencies and citizens face many new challenges. And specific to Canada, the unclear division of responsibility on housing between various governments – or, as some argue, the unwillingness of the federal government to take strong leadership – complicates the dissemination of solutions and has often left municipalities largely responsible for homelessness within their own communities. Income insecurity remains a major challenge: example of Alberta’s
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  30. 30. Housing: from alms to asset • As the foundation of civil society, shelter is an indispensable asset and source of well-being • Housing iscommodity another not just • Incremental improvements could realize large gains 30 Housing and housing security are not a question of alms, charity or assistance. Safe, affordable and healthy housing is a holistic and preventative tonic that, like nothing else, can keep people from slipping into the nether-world of deep poverty, addiction and breakdown. In the end, we must act on homelessness not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it makes sense.
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