Our Stigma And Agitation Against Our Homeless and Impoverished Is Not Only Cruel, But Costs Us All
Homelessness and Poverty in Oshawa and Durham Region is a rising problem with a LOT of misinformation and reactionary politics around it. Over the last few years we have seen a massive spike in deaths among our homeless. At the same time, we have largely only seen clearing of homeless camps, bylaws allowing us to fine people who offer food and water in public spaces without an expensive permit, and an increase in defensive design. What little support we have given at the municipal level has been deeply flawed and poorly managed, as if meant to provide lip service rather than actually fix the problem.
Many people seem to believe there is no solution to homelessness and throw their hands up in the air, but this is not the case. Finland is one country who is on track to end homelessness in a few years. Their solution is simple and made of two parts: a large investment in public housing, and "housing first" homelessness prevention. About 11% of Finland's housing market is publicly owned, and it is used to give impoverished and homeless individuals places to live for little to no charge and provide strong rent-geared-to-income programs. Initially this may seem like a crazy, expensive idea, but when we review the available information it's really our cheapest option when we consider the costs(both financial and social) of homelessness to our society.
When a person is homeless, they are more likely to have interactions with emergency services, visit the ER, or use our over filled shelter system. When someone doesn't have easy access to food water and shelter, their physical and mental health gets worse, and they are more likely to do whatever they need to do to survive, legal or not. When your mental health is poor, it is more likely someone will also begin to suffer from addictions. All of this leads to creating a poverty trap, which gets harder and harder to escape the longer you are in it regardless which walk of life you came from before. Regardless of whether you have empathy for homeless people, you have to admit that all of these things are expensive to society. The cost of homelessness across Canada is estimated at $7 billion per year. If we assume everything to be equal per capita, this means that homelessness costs Durham Region an estimated 92 million. We do not spend anywhere close to 92 million trying to solve this problem, even including spending at all levels of government. We could easily spend 50 million a year(6.6% of our regional budget) for a decade and solve homelessness in Durham Region, or we could keep letting it cost us because we are too proud to help those less fortunate than us. This money would be spent mostly on housing first supports(no barrier public housing spread out across our major cities) and mental health and addictions services.
Lastly we should talk for a moment about addictions. We have demonized addictions following America's war on drugs for too long. A quick look at the rat park studies done in the 1980's show us that when people's basic needs are met, drug use drastically reduces. While decriminalizing recreational drug use is in the Federal jurisdiction, I would strongly support a safe consumption site in every major city in Durham region. These sites have been proven to not increase drug usage rates, and they reduce harm to people suffering from addictions by preventing overdoses and the spread of HIV/AIDS. They would also reduce the number of needles we find in parks, making it easier to keep these places needle free. They reduce the stigma around addictions and allow people to seek help if and when they want it as opposed to hiding their addictions out of fear.
We have known since prohibition era that trying to legally enforce what people consume only ends in more pain and suffering. I would like to think that we have learned as a society since then. It is my belief that recreational drug use and addictions of street drugs is no different from a regular person's use of alcohol, cigarettes, cannabis, or caffeine. Nobody complains when someone who drinks too much has to use our health system to avoid dying, it should be the same for anyone. The dangerous part about how we treat addiction as a society is how we invite people to profit off of the fact that we make substances both illegal and rare, without any form of regulation or safety protocols for people using them.
Educational content regarding housing first homeless projects: