Posted by Amy MacPherson
Wasaga Beach: What are the parties doing for homelessness?
April 18, 2011 6:18 PM
Region: Ontario Topics:
By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, ON)
We’re in the heat of an election campaign and I still haven’t seen a vision put forward by the right, left or centre to deal with our rapidly growing list of disadvantaged. My local queries have gone nervously unanswered and the community resource network is anxiously awaiting recognition. The charity of churches and individual donors can’t possibly put a roof over everyone’s head.
I attended the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness (SCATEH) annual report card unveiling Sunday in Collingwood, Ont. The Chair of the meeting, Trevor Lester, is a passionate and educated advocate on behalf of the epidemic. This year’s release focused on the plight of women and how they’ve been impacted by different socio economic factors. After the speeches concluded he was kind enough to speak to me:
Liberal Alex Smardenka was the only candidate in attendance, which surprised me. I was perplexed and disappointed he didn’t speak, though, nor did he stay after the presentation for questions. I understand the campaign trail is busy, but Smardenka vacated the building before closing applause could finish. We weren’t able get information on the Liberal platform at all and he only appeared to visit as a spectator.
Other notable attendees included Harry Chadwick, a former Conservative MP in the Mulroney government (1988-93). Chadwick is also a kindred community member who’s given his time to many causes. He’s mild mannered, chipper and looks like everyone’s favourite grandpa, but in the context of homelessness and the federal election he offered a sobering comment.
“My party has evolved from the PC party to the Reform, to the Reform Alliance… and now to the Conservative Party of Canada, CPC. And it would appear my party has lost its heart.”
Pastor Seagram of the Wasaga Beach Ministerial Food Bank, former MP Harry Chadwick, Mayor of Wasaga Beach Cal Patterson and Mayor of Collingwood Sandra Cooper. (Submitted by Amy MacPherson)
Locally, and in most of rural Ontario, access to affordable housing is scant and community based services have eroded to skeleton referral systems. As we’ve seen our numbers skyrocket over the recession, the federal government has backed further away from its commitments. On any given night there may be 2,900 women in Simcoe County alone, who are braving the elements or coping with dangerous situations. To give you some perspective, our total county population compares to one-fifth of Toronto and these statistics aren’t accounting for homeless men or children.
The Wellesley Institute discovered affordable housing will be zeroed out by 2014 under the federal government’s current mandate. This would place all responsibility for homelessness on the backs of provinces and individual communities, with $1.22 billion being cut from this year’s budget alone. The full phase out occurs over three years, although the initial wound will virtually defunct the program well before its official retirement.
The Conservative government has since found more than $1 billion in funding for a variety of programs, including infrastructure repairs, disaster relief and snowmobile clubs in the 2011 budget. As Lester put it, “Why aren’t we jumping up and down with numbers like these in our communities?”
Others on the frontlines have questioned the trade off, especially when the consequences are unmistakable. According to SCATEH:
37 per cent of women living on the streets were physically assaulted in the last year
21 per cent were sexually assaulted once or more in the last year
50 per cent were turned away from shelters that were already full
42 per cent are living on $2,400 or less per year
25 per cent suffered from pneumonia
43 per cent are experiencing problems with their feet
43 per cent are also going hungry
It costs us more than $2,500 to keep them in hospital when there is nowhere left to go, per patient, per visit.
The women in this study were homeless for an average of three years. They suffer quadruple the rate of diabetes and quintuple that of heart disease. Without a home they aren’t able to receive steady treatment though. Without a home they are ten times more likely to die.
A Collingwood woman wanted to share her personal experience. She once enjoyed a middle class life, but was forced on the street through a series of challenges. In the past she was a business manager and her family participated in the community, supporting the food bank and other charitable causes. It was a harsh reversal of fortune, but she points out it could happen to anyone:
If those statistics don’t force us to take a harder look at this recession, then consider what theRegistered Nurses’ Association of Ontario published. There’s been a 51 per cent increase in the homelessness of single parent families. There’s also been a 60 per cent increase in children taken into foster care, as a direct result of food and shelter issues. This is the street level view of have-not Ontario and we need the federal parties to sit up and take notice.
The women in our province are mothers and caretakers. Some call it a matter of welfare and others see it as a disservice to our communities. What is the overall cost of taking 60 per cent of their children into state care, compared with providing affordable housing? Speaking of government priorities, the Fraser Institute calculated $182 billion already spent in corporate welfare hasn’t managed to benefit the average family yet.
The Executive Director of Georgian Triangle Housing Resource Centre, Gail Michalenko reports our area suffers from a 0.9% rental vacancy rate. At Wasaga Cares we also see a long list of clients who are in need of a home. Many of these families are working poor who can’t afford the rent either. They’ve been asking which party has developed a plan to address their wellbeing and on their behalf I submit this question to all party leaders.