Rev. Yme Woensdregt
This past Wednesday, November 22, was National Housing Day. The purpose of this day is is so that we can pause and reflect on the challenges too many of us are facing in finding a safe and affordable place to live.
Nationally, over 3.3 million Canadians cannot find safe and affordable housing. That’s 10% of our fellow citizens who cannot afford a home. One in ten people.
National Housing Day started 19 years ago in Toronto, when the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee declared homelessness to be a national disaster. Beginning in 2000, November 22nd was recognized as National Housing Strategy Day. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness of the issues around housing and homelessness in our wealthy nation.
On this day, we proclaim that housing is a human right. It’s not just something good to have. It’s not just an important part of life. It’s a right—and it’s a right for all of us.
Susan Johnson and Fred Hiltz, the leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada, released a statement. They remind us that “More than 235,000 Canadians experience periods of homelessness every year, with as many 35,000 people finding themselves homeless on any given night. Thousands of others live in precarious housing, struggling month after month to pay rent or remaining in unsafe or inadequate housing because of a lack of appropriate options.”
They continue, “Homelessness and a lack of affordable housing affects every community in this country, from large urban centres to remote northern communities, and is experienced by diverse populations including young people, seniors, families, veterans, and more. Indigenous people are disproportionately represented among homeless populations in Canada, and many Indigenous communities continue to experience acute housing crises such as overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and poor condition of existing housing stock. Many Indigenous people in urban contexts also continue to experience discrimination in access to housing.”
This kind of housing crisis is not just something that happens in big cities like Vancouver and Toronto and Calgary. It affects everyone, including Cranbrook and the East Kootenays.
A study completed in June 2017 concluded that “Cranbrook is facing a shortfall of affordable rental housing and ownership units. Affordable housing is a critical issue in addressing poverty, impacting the local economy, quality of life, and a sense of community.”
The definition of homelessness in Canada describes “the situation of an individual or a family without stable, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it.” It affects people who are “unsheltered, emergency sheltered, or provisionally accommodated”.
The result is that some people will do anything for a place to stay for the night, including such things as couch surfing; remaining in unsafe relationships; trading sex for food or shelter; living rough (eg in a vehicle, or in a tent, or in the outdoors); living in accommodation with unsafe, unhealthy or otherwise inadequate conditions; staying somewhere temporarily that you didn’t want but felt you had no choice; staying in a shelter or transitional home; staying in a hotel or motel short–term with no tenant rights.
Three separate surveys and counts of homeless people were undertaken in early 2017. Here are some of the shocking statistics. In 2016, 214 adults experienced homelessness. 106 adults experienced absolute homelessness. One–third experienced homelessness before the age of 17. Two–thirds experienced homelessness for more than six out of twelve months. Three–quarters had to choose between a place to stay and other expenses. Almost one–half are fearful they will lose their current housing, however inadequate it may be.
These are people whom we see on the streets of our city. They are not strangers. They are not some group far away. They are right here. They are struggling to survive right in our midst.
Why are they homeless? The causes of homelessness are complex and multi–faceted. Most people don’t choose to be homeless. It is an unpleasant, stressful and distressing situation. Some of the factors include a lack of affordable and appropriate housing; a significant change in health or economic circumstances; financial, mental, cognitive, behavioural or physical challenges; domestic violence and/or abuse.
In Cranbrook, the vacancy rate of one–bedroom apartments is less than 1%, and the average rent is $659. For two–bedroom units at an average rent of $787, less than 2%. For three–bedroom units at at an average rent of $881, 0%. There are also several non–profit societies offering subsidized housing, but vacancy rates for these units are critically low.
In addition to this, 20% of homeowners in Cranbrook are spending more than 30% of their pre–tax income on shelter. If you’re spending more than 30%, then accommodation is considered unaffordable.
These are shocking numbers. This is not just a problem. It is a crisis. Housing is a human right.
Quoting again from the statement by Johnson and Hiltz, “Canada remains a wealthy country, with the capability to eliminate homelessness in our communities and to ensure access to safe, adequate, and affordable housing for all. Meeting this challenge requires collaboration between all levels of government, faith communities, the private sector, and civil society organizations.”
We have to work together if we are ever going to begin finding a solution for this problem. Our City Council needs to work at it. Our churches and agencies and service clubs need to work at this. Businesses in the region need to join forces to combat homelessness.
These are our neighbours.
Next week, I’ll share a little bit of what Christ Church Anglican is doing in partnership with the Homeless Outreach & Prevention agency which is part of the Cranbrook Connections Society … and how you can help.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican