Common sense for a common cause – 6th Annual Homelessness Action Week is Oct 10-16

Thanksgiving is a very special time for me, as it is for many of us, a time to reflect on the good things in our lives, to connect with family and spend time together. My children look forward more to Thanksgiving than Christmas – all the anticipation and good family time, without the let down which can come with what they did or didn’t get in their stockings. But for many in our communities, holidays such as Thanksgiving are a continuation of the daily struggle to secure the necessities of life – food and shelter.

October 10 was World Homeless Day and in Metro Vancouver the whole week is dedicated to Action on Homelessness. A lot of good work from all levels of government and community organizations has gone into increasing the stock of social housing and emergency shelters for the homeless in our community. But the underlying factors are still a real and present issue for those in the lowest economic bracket in our society.

According to the Metro Vancouver task force “In 2010 in Metro Vancouver, the average rent for a one bedroom apartment was nearly $950 per month. To pay this, someone working 40 hours a week at $10/hr would need to spend more than half of what they earn on rent before paying taxes or other deductions. A good measure of affordability is housing that costs no more than 30% of the pre-tax income of someone earning a modest income.”

We constantly hear news stories about both Vancouver’s livability (which is high), but also about the struggle for families and low income earners to find accommodation in our city, whether to own or rent. Too many people are one or two pay cheques away from homelessness, and we as a community end up paying more than if we had a stronger social safety net to prevent homelessness.

BCAHL’s Healthy Futures for BC Families report outlined the impacts of poor housing on the overall health of our communities. A key policy goal for BCAHL is that all British Columbians have access to safe, affordable housing. And we are not alone in putting this emphasis on housing, according to a poll conducted by Angus Reid Strategies on our behalf in 2008, 89% of British Columbians support increasing investment in affordable housing.

So if we all agree that something should be done, what remains is the how, when and where, in order to get traction on this issue. Emergency shelters are a beginning, but we know that families are increasingly in peril, that youth homeless are not always tracked because they ‘couch surf’ and are less visible. We must build the spectrum of housing options. This will require a dramatic increase in the stock of low income housing so that our lowest income earners are not at risk of homelessness.

Although the need is great, the desire of our community to get involved in this issue across sectors is growing. For instance, the street to home foundation has brought the voice and talents of the business community to the issue – their website quotes the reason – it is only “common sense and common decency” to help solve the homelessness issue.

Samantha Hartley-Folz
Manager, Policy and Programs
October 2011

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