(Read Part One by clicking here.)
Homelessness is an issue that is certainly aligned with the fundamental principles of Catholic Social Teaching. When we talk about principles such as Human Dignity, Association, Participation, Solidarity and the Preferential Protection for the Poor and Vulnerable, is there any other barrier that prevents a person from living and enjoying these principles than being homeless?
There are some very positive efforts in place around the world that are dedicated to homelessness. The Vincentian Family Global Initiative on Homelessness is one that we can all be very proud of. Here in Canada the city of Edmonton, Alberta has joined this alliance in combatting homelessness with a very proactive and aggressive plan. We also have the example of what a smaller community can do to end homelessness in Medicine Hat, Alberta. This city of about 70,000 people made a commitment to invest in its residents who were homeless by building affordable housing. They have reached the point where homelessness is basically non-existent in Medicine Hat, but they also realize the need to continue with an ongoing assessment of future homelessness.
The Canadian federal government recently committed to an affordable housing plan that invests millions of dollars into building and renovating housing. While such national plans are good news it seems to me that it really takes a commitment from individual cities before any long-term success can be achieved towards reducing homelessness. Our communities certainly look at the cost factor with the argument being they don’t have the funds needed to address homelessness. If money is the issue I refer to some statistics from the Homeless Hub (www.homelesshub.com) a Canadian research and advocacy centre based in Toronto. They cite a 2005 study which was done in four large cities. The annual cost of taking care of someone in an institution (hospital, prison) is between $66,000-$120,000, emergency shelters it is between $13,000-$42,000 (a wide range) supportive housing $13,000-$18,000 and finally affordable housing with no support was between $5,000-$8,000.
There is a need to advocate at our local community level for an investment in affordable housing and the elimination of homelessness. While the financial component is likely the main issue for community involvement I think there is another component that is at least equally important. The investment in human beings should be a major factor for any city wishing to improve the quality of life in their community. This personal investment certainly starts with all of us engaging with the homeless. Let us all Engage-Encourage and Enable.
About the author:
Jim Paddon lives in London, Ontario, Canada and is past president of the Ontario Regional Council of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. He is currently chair of the National Social Justice Committee of the Society in Canada. He is married to his dear wife Pat and they have six daughters and eleven grandchildren. Jim has been a member of the Society since the 1970’s.