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Homelessness – Life On The Streets

by in Action, Features

Homeless Under BridgeWHO’S HOMELESS
Okay, so I get that we live in a society of comfort and ease, many of us getting whatever we want whenever we want it! Come on now, surely you must agree! I’m also well aware that whenever the homeless subject is brought up people start getting squirmy and uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because we hate seeing the ugliness of this issue – the reality that there are people close to our homes or in our community and province who are living without a roof over their heads and without all of the comforts that most seem to have in abundance. We can hastily jump to conclusions on why somebody would choose to be homeless and how it is that they got in to that predicament.

Homelessness is a term given to any group/person in society that has no stable, safe place to reside in. No place of comfort to come home to. No roof over their head.

Let’s take a closer look at the types of people that we see falling into this group. In an article written by The Province newspaper from Vancouver, BC in late ’08, the statistics showed that 61% of the homeless were caught up in drug or alcohol addictions. 33% were suffering from mental illness and 31% were also crippled by physical disability.1 The majority of these people live in poverty and in many cases – extreme poverty. They are the ‘fringe of society’, the people we easily judge and stereotype. Alarmingly though, with economic uncertainty and the cost of living rising, average working-class people are joining these ranks. It might take a little courage but if you talk to a street person you’ll find many on our streets today are men and women who have fallen out of well paid jobs, struggled through nasty family break-ups or have simply slipped-up along the way and have found themselves on the streets destitute with little support on how to get themselves out of their sudden new found lifestyle.

I think the think we need to remember is not to just assume we know these people’s stories or that they deserve to be homeless. It’s a complex issue.

Getting specific numbers is hard depending on how we define homelessness. Are the homeless simply those stranded on the streets and/or sleeping in shelters or does it include those living in barely adequate houses?

If we just define it as those living in the streets or crashing at emergency shelters, then stats in 2000 indicates there are 40,000 homeless people in Canada.2 Based on a 10 to 1 ratio then that means there are 10,000 homeless each for Montreal and Toronto, 5,000 homeless in Vancouver and between 1,000 and 2,000 each for Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Halifax, Saskatoon and Regina.

The rate of homelessness is hastily rising in Canada. In fact, there has been a 373% increase in the amount of people on the streets in Canada since the year 2002.3 Astonishing!

You might be asking, “What are the main causes?” That’s a great question. Here are some answers.

Insufficient affordable (low cost) housing available
There are not enough places to live that are affordable for people trying to get back up on their feet

High unemployment rates
This is the leading factor for the rise in homeless teens and early twenties.

Closing down mental institutions
This puts mentally ill people on the streets with no hard support from their community.

Increase in domestic abuse
Leads to the break down of the family and mostly women and children seeking refuge from crisis/abuse situations in emergency shelters.

Here are some challenges for you!

Lose the attitude that homeless people get what they deserve even if people have fallen in to heavy addictions which has led to their new lifestyle. By judging we just increase the shame they feel.

Connect with a church or youth group and see if you can volunteer in local shelters, food banks, food lines or other services involving these people (if they exist). Get friend and try handing out blankets during the cold months or a pair of socks to that obvious homeless person on the streets. As you get to know homeless people and hear their stories you will stereotype and judge less.

Once you spend more time with people who are homeless you will start to hear repetitive patterns of what they would like to see changed. Government funding and affordable housing comes up lots. Don’t get discouraged thinking that’ll never change so maybe you should just quit. Keep doing what you’re doing because you are setting an example for others to follow!

- Is it fair that this group often gets judged? Do you find yourself a part of the judging?
- What is your reaction when you are confronted with the reality of the homeless, walking past a homeless person on the streets? Do you meet them with compassion and dignity?
- Do you think homelessness could be preventable? How might that happen?

Share your comments below.

Canadian Homeless Study – 2008 survey of men using Salvation Army shelters across Canada (1.8 mb)
(to download: right click & select ‘save as’ or ‘save link as’)

Stop Homelessness – Official website for Homeless Action Week
Raising the Roof - Canada’s only national charity dedicated to long-term solutions to homelessness
Intraspec – Resources, news and statistics on housing and homelessness in Canada.
Street Level – consulting and counseling based in Calgary, Alberta
National Coalition for the Homeless - USA

The Homeless Home – 84 min documentary following lives of 5 people.
One Day of Hope – 5 min vid shot at different Salvation Army shelters across Canada
Resurrecting the Champ – Hollywood movie with Samuel Jackson & Josh Hartnett. Based on a true story about heavyweight boxer ‘Battling Bob Satterfield’who went from being a Chicago City Golden Gloves Champion to narrowly missing a shot at a title fight, then finally winding up homeless on the mean streets of California.
The Pursuit of Happyness – Hollywood movie with Will Smith. Inspired by a true story.
The Soloist – Hollywood movie with Robert Downey Jr. & Jamie Foxx. Based on a true story about a music prodigy who ends up on the streets.
The Faces and Voices of Homelessness – 3:42min vid depicting faces and voices of people on the streets in Saint John, New Brunswick

Under the Overpass – by Mike Yankoski & Sam Purvis

:: by Sally & Beauglehole of Perth, Australia
I’m 21 and a have been a member of the War College in Vancouver, BC this past year. I’m engaged to a great bloke named Mitchell. Before coming to Vancouver for War College I was studying classical music at university, but oh how God has changed those plans around and now all I’m really passionate about is being involved in mission work!

1 Keating, Jack. [2008] Stunning Increase in the number of Greater Vancouver Homeless. The Province
2 Pohl, Rudy. Homeless in Canada. Street Level Consulting and Counseling –
3 Keating, Jack. [2008] Stunning Increase in the number of Greater Vancouver Homeless. The Province

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  • Carrie Reimer

    Any one who has ever met me would say I am the least likely person to ever be homeless. Friends teased me about being a Martha Stewart wannabe, I was the mom who always had homemade chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven. My house was always clean just in case someone popped by and everyone knew if you were going to Carrie’s house you would be well fed, I loved to cook and entertain friends and family. I was raised with the belief “God helps those who help themselves” and “no one gets a free ride”. From the age of 13 I always had a job and was the epitomy of responsibility. Even though I ended up a single mom I took pride in making sure my son had everything any 2 parent child had, including a trip to Disneyland. At 40 I had RRSP’s, a lovely home in Chwk, I adopted a family every Christmas, and I passed judgement on anyone who was homeless. I wish I could eat my words now but at the time my judgements came from being totally ignorant of what living in true poverty was like.
    I have been homeless now for 2 months and feel lucky to have my truck to sleep in and I am able to keep myself fed by being self-employed. I have had some pretty big hurdles in my life and never considered giving up as an option, even through the worst times I knew I would survive and overcome anything put in my way, in fact I was motivated by the challenge. I used to be a happy outgoing friendly person who was quick with a smile and quick wit; I now spend my days trying to find the strength to get through another day.
    Like I said, I consider myself lucky because I can sit in my truck with the heater on, I have clean, dry clothes to put on when it rains, I am able to work and feed myself and I have my dog with me for company and protection, I can lock my truck at night and feel relatively safe. The power steering is gone on my truck and I can’t afford to fix it, I know some day I won’t be able to drive it any more and will lose my income and consequently with time, my truck. I have learned that many homeless people start out in their vehicle with the belief that it is only for a short time.
    I now know how demoralizing it is to not be able to shower, how hard it is to find a washroom that isn’t “for patrons only”, I have heard people’s stories and I am not alone. The drug addicts and mentally disturbed sector of the homeless population most definitely need help, but there are so many other people who, if they aren’t homeless; live on the brink of it who desperately need a helping hand. We don’t see these people because they try to hide the fact and probably because we don’t want to aknowledge they exist; if we did, it would mean it could happen to “us”. The answer to homelessness is prevention, help people BEFORE they lose all their resources, including their self respect and confidence. As a society we need to lose the “me first” attitude, stop with the “tough love”, and become a community of people that gives a shit about their neighbours. Every one has resources they can share, furniture they aren’t using, services they can offer. I would love to see what would happen in a community if every dentist volunteered to fix one person’s teeth a year, every hairdresser donated a cut and style, every lawyer offered to help someone fight an injustice, every carpenter donated a week a year to making improvements to some single mom’s house, if an able bodied person volunteered to weed an old lady’s garden and in turn she donated plants from that garden, a mechanic that offers to fix a vehicle so a person can get to work and an auto parts store that donates the parts. The list is endless and I believe every one, regardless of age or social standing has something to give and has a need (or will have a need). I can hear people saying, “But people will abuse it” and I say “It is better that someone receives help they don’t need than to have one person not receive the help that could transform their lives forever and let God or karma take care of the rest.