The state of Canada’s growing and problematic homeless population compels explanations and responses. Both have come in abundance, yet the chief underlying cause, the restrained supply of private housing, has not been addressed. By avoiding the issue and promoting a combination of expanded government housing projects, subsidized temporary shelters and mortgage programs for those on low-incomes, policymakers are entrenching the sorry fate of the underclass. Many simple and effective reforms could be enacted, but the relevant leaders demonstrate distrust for or a misunderstanding of private solutions, and sadly, the correct policy responses have not been given a reasonable chance.
Homeless individuals, due to their transient lifestyle, are difficult to count, and estimates vary. However, even one homeless person is one too many. The expanding homeless demographic gathered momentum despite the relative upsurge in the economy in the 1990s and early 2000s—evidenced most clearly by greatly increased requests with homeless shelters—and the recent economic slump has only exacerbated the problem.
Given Canada’s relative economic prosperity (comfortably within the top 15 nations in terms of per capita income), homelessness would seem to be unwarranted, and our cold climate makes it especially concerning.
Every winter at least one homeless person freezes to death, and by not addressing the suffering associated with homelessness, which ought to jolt us into action, we perpetuate what has become a growing tax burden. A University of California study that followed 15 homeless individuals over an 18-month period found that each consumed an average of $200,000 worth of public services. The burden is likely to be similar, if not greater, in Canadian provinces. A conservative estimate puts the annual direct cost to Canadian taxpayers at $6-billion. Perhaps more important than direct costs, though, is that homelessness amplifies associated problems that impede participation in society and place expenses elsewhere. Without a home, one is more likely to lose a job, suffer from malnutrition and fall into substance abuse. Consequently, increased flow-on costs to unemployment insurance, medical care and policing are inevitable.