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no more homeless people! fantastic news!!

February 27, 2015

_DSC1040The full page ad in today’s Globe and Mail national newspaper proclaimed “A blueprint to end homelessness.”

Excuse me while I yawn.

St. Mike’s Hospital thinks it can end homelessness in Toronto?

Do they seriously think that their “Urban Angel Fund for Homeless People” will solve the homeless problem?

They boast that the fund has established a “health-solutions incubator” that’s testing new approaches to help “homeless people regain their lives.” The fund will “support an ongoing series of ground breaking new programs.”

Apparently (according the poster – with its hetero-normative family of four (requisite daughter and son) St. Mike’s is an “international leader in the care of homeless people” (their underlining, not mine).

Yet, in the very line above this leadership self-proclamation- in the opening line, in fact – it states that on any given night in Toronto, over 5,000 people are homeless.

Not doing much of a leadership job, are they?

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You can see from the ad that they will continue to fail in dealing with the homeless crisis – for they proclaim that the Urban Angel Fund will be under the leadership of their Chief of Psychiatry, Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos.

As if homelessness is simply a mental health problem that needs to be fixed.

I know nothing about Dr. Steriopoulos, and I’m confident that she is a highly competent clinician and bureaucrat to have made her way to this leadership position. But the problem is that homelessness – while being about mental health for some people – is first, and foremost, a homelessness issue. As in there aren’t enough affordable spaces for people who live in the bottom 10-20% of the income totem pole.

You can have all the groundbreaking programming you want, but if you ain’t got roofs to put over asses, then they are little more than a bandage solution, which will do little but sustain the incomes of all those professionals hired to solve the problem.

Of course it needs to be more than just guaranteed housing – an array of supports are also needed (mental health, living skills, financial, employment training/support) – but the roof always comes first.

And St. Mike’s – no matter how many world-leading programs they develop – is in no position to deal with Toronto’s current record-setting 10-year wait list for affordable housing.

The kind of financial support needed to eliminate that wait list can only come when the feds and the province decide together to get serious about actually solving Toronto’s homeless problem. And that’s a $billion dollar housing plan no federal government is remotely interested in addressing. To even suggest it would outrage middle-class cottagers everywhere!

St. Mike’s might say that they can solve the problem, but anyone who has spent time on the front lines of working with the homeless knows full well what needs to be done to solve the crisis.

But politicians almost never talk to the frontline workers. They prefer to conference with the so-called managerial experts, and then talk to the media in ways that tell you they can’t see the forest for the trees.

I have been a frontline street outreach worker / homeless youth worker / counsellor / community program manager for the better part of 25 years now.

This is how I would solve homeless crisis:

1. Early childhood intervention: a Public Health nurse would visit every new parent at least once a week for the first three years after a child is born. Some European countries do this and it has reduced a myriad of early childhood problems that can later lead to mental health problems, homelessness, and multi-generational dysfunctions.

2. A national daycare system: my daughter went to the University of Toronto daycare from the age of two until Grade One. Not only did she thrive in this intellectually stimulating, musical, active, multiracial, healthy environment, she made friends that are still with her today (15 years later). Such daycares should be the standards which all children get to excel in.

A national daycare system will also – importantly – free millions of mothers (mostly) to pursue employment and raise their standards of living.

3. Guaranteed income: study after study has shown that a guaranteed income does more to resolve social ills than any other factor save affordable housing. But in our morally conservative Judeao-Christian culture we do not want to hear that people should have a guaranteed income. It goes against our Protestant work ethic, our Ayn Randian notions of meritocracy. This should not surprise you – little about solving the homeless problem is about actual social-science best practices, and much of the homeless issue is about religious and/or conservative ideology.

4. Affordable housing and long-term care support (where needed): a homeless person is statistically about 100 times more expensive to society than a person who is housed. The costs are incredible: the homeless take up enormous emergency and non-emergency medical resources, police resources, prison resources, addiction resources, and pharmaceutical resources. A homeless person lives under enormous stresses – environmental, financial, social – and breakdown under these stresses in a number of ways.

Put this same person under a roof – that they can call home – and you almost immediately drop the cost of these public resources in half. And with the proper supports, you further reduce these costs another 40% within two years.

In other words – when a politician says they cannot afford a national daycare system and a billion dollar affordable housing fund for Toronto – tell them that they will have a 100% return on their investment within 6 months of opening the first daycare and affordable housing door, and they will, from there on in, create an enormous surplus that can be re-directed into a multitude of more constructive social endeavours.

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It’s not that I don’t wish St. Mike’s well in their pursuit of ending homelessness. Their pursuit is noble and righteous.

It’s just that I can’t stand hyperbole.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Eric Weiner permalink
    February 28, 2015 9:51 pm

    This is one of the things you do best – marshal the relevant facts to make a powerful and convincing case. Would be that more people would listen. Well done.

    • S.J. Hines permalink*
      March 1, 2015 8:41 am

      I’m thinking that I might re-edit this a bit and try and send it to the G&M this week…

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