We CAN make Homelessness History

Recently, much of the country has been in the grip of a vicious cold snap. Simple tasks - like walking to a bus stop - become onerous. Weeks like these remind us there is no feeling quite like the safety and warmth found in the places we call “home”.

Over the past few weeks, much of the country has been in the grip of a vicious cold snap. Simple tasks - like walking to a bus stop - become onerous.  Weeks like these remind us there is no feeling quite like the safety and warmth found in the places we call “home”.

But these frigid temperatures are more than just an inconvenience for Canadians who live on the street. Winter comes to Canada every year, and yet we seem to be taken by surprise that there are vulnerable Canadians who have no shelter, and for whom the arrival of winter marks the beginning of a gruelling struggle for survival.

Perhaps the best illustration of this struggle can be seen in Toronto. Extreme cold weather, combined with an insufficient number of shelter beds, has led to a crisis, inciting calls on the federal government to allow the Moss Park Armouries to be used as a temporary shelter.

At least 94 homeless people died in Toronto last year. The rising death toll is a grim statistic that should propel us into action. Those 94 people had family and friends. They loved and were loved. Yet they died, senselessly, ignored and forgotten.

During my time as the CEO of the United Way of Saskatoon & Area, the city reaped the benefits of what was referred to as an ‘economic boom’. Property values sky-rocketed and suddenly, what was once affordable became unobtainable. An unprecedented homelessness crisis erupted, and workers with full-time jobs were left with no choice but to stay in shelters because they could not afford rent. I remember the Police Chief, in the midst of the crisis, saying, “We have to do something.”

Well, we did do something.

We gathered around the table to listen. We heard from those who had experienced homelessness firsthand. I remember our community stepping up to invest in Housing First after hearing from Hashle and David - two people who were homeless in Saskatoon, and who were gracious enough to share their expertise and lived experience.

We heard from anti-poverty groups and sat down with unions, the business community, and with all levels of government. We looked to our friends in various communities across Alberta - our neighbours to the west who had already faced many challenges and had arrived at some successful solutions. Everyone who wanted to make a difference was welcomed. We looked for a way forward that was based on understanding the causes of homelessness.

This is the kind of action I want from our federal government. This is why I introduced M-147. 

A special committee will learn the depth and scope of the problem, define and recommend the best role for federal leadership, help us plan for future investments based on measurable goals, and allow us to evaluate progress and measure success.

I want parliamentarians to listen to perspectives from across Canada, to then develop a national plan. I want the federal government to lead a nation-wide effort to end and prevent homelessness.

Canada’s emergency shelters are overflowing. They are filled with seniors, women, veterans, families with children, and youth.  LGBTQ youth are especially at risk. Indigenous Canadians are 10 times more likely than non-Indigenous people to end up in emergency shelters, and we cannot overlook the people who fall into more than one of these groups. Shelters, as we have seen during these bitterly cold winter days, are woefully inadequate in the face of such need; they cannot be a long-term solution.

In the wake of the federal government’s re-engagement in affordable housing, M-147 can help achieve what we all want –an end to homelessness.

We can end homelessness in Canada. All it takes is political will. We can do this and we must.

Take a moment to send an email to the Government asking them to support M-147 by visiting sheribenson.ndp.ca/take-action