Comment from a reader

February 2, 2010

Hi all,
Here’s an extended comment yesterday from a reader referring to a post from Nov. 2006 in response to a Facts and Arguments piece by Dan Hilton in the Globe and Mail. We thought it worthy of posting on the blog itself. [Also see the thoughtful comments to this posting.]

Re: Designer Java for a Regular Joe
“If this province wasn’t so ultraconservative and didn’t see every homeless person as a druggie or alcoholic then I think the whole province would be a lot better. Unfortunately, that’s what they see and that’s what they think and that’s what they write in the newspaper” – Doug, Homeless.
And write they do, at least Dan Hilton does. he Designer  Java for a Regular Joe straightforwardly asserts that people are homeless because of “their own choices”  and aren’t truly as poor as we’re made to believe. An example of how prejudice against homelessness is all too prevalent and sadly misdirected.  However, homelessness has been growing globally, figures indicate that the total number of homeless people in Canada on any given night is probably of the order of tens and thousands, and has been growing rapidly almost six times faster than the overall population of Canada (Statistics Canada,2008).  Unfortunately as homelessness increases, so does misconceived stereotypes and stigmatization of the homeless. Sweeping generalizations like “there are few truly hungry on the streets of Canadian cities” is a poor and inadequate representation of the truly homeless and has a severe impact on poverty initiatives. Hilton’s article redirects the lens of poverty onto the individual and blames them for their weaknesses, further contributing to stereotypes that exist for these individuals which hinders the ability for the needy to seek financial assistance. He establishes a binary between individuals living on the streets to those in subsidized living will only create further polarization between the deserving and the undeserving.This is dangerous as it’s hard to calculate who the homeless truly are. Studies conducted state that one-fourth of homeless individuals have gone in and out of homelessness numerous times, the rest experiencing a first or second episode which lasted more than a year(Dragan,2002). This highlights the diversity of the homeless population and proves; no model stereotype or labels could possibly exist contrary to Hilton’s belief. Hilton has glorified homelessness as a mere choice, yet the prevalence of mental illness 25-50% and substance abuse between 50-70% in homeless individuals refutes his assumption (Gelberg,2000) Homeless persons are vulnerable to victimization such as harassment, violence and abuse by members of the general public for simply being homeless(Fischer,1992).The daily struggles they must face is a hardship in itself and they shouldn’t be forced to suffer further by articles that inaccurately represent them. Hilton’s ignorance to poverty as being a serious issue is baffling to me as a Toronto citizen living downtown as well as a student studying social work, and the combination of the two has opened my eyes to the severity of poverty in our country. It’s difficult to live in an urban centre and not see the conditions or lack of conditions some people live in every single day. Individuals sleeping on a subway vent to maintain warmth hardly sounds like an appealing choice. Becoming or remaining homeless is not a choice but a result of a combination of community and societal factors (Eberle,2001).Homelessness has been labelled as a national disaster by Canadian mayors in 1998, yet anti-poverty attempts have remained at a standstill (CMHA,2004). Programs established are focused on serving people who are already homeless, yet if assistance is restricted solely to those homeless tonight not much can be done for those who are homeless tomorrow.  Advocates argue that if all governments increase their spending on housing by 1% of overall spending, homelessness could be eliminated in 5 years ( Dagan,2002). However, the silence of our society denying homelessness as an issue works to exclude the experiences and lived realities of the homeless and hinders strategies to effectively deal with the homelessness crisis. Denial of poverty as a social crisis must be re-examined and there must be pressure to invest in prevention and more affordable housing. We must lose the stigmas that are so sadly attached to homeless individuals and rectify the crisis that Canada is in.

8 Responses to “Comment from a reader”

  1. Pat Kaiser Says:

    Homeless people need homes.

  2. Jan Vandebong Says:

    Gonna have to disagree on principle – private charity good, government charity bad. When charities are not directly responsible to their donors inefficiencies abound, what’s that subsidized housing agency in Toronto called? Anyway, they were recently awarded one of those ‘Canada’s (or @ least Ontario’s, I forget) Best Employers’ for giving their employees, amongst other perqs, an on-site daycare & gym while their properties go poorly maintained with broken elevators, bedbug infestations & thousands upon thousands of unoccupied square footage because it’s been allowed to deteriorate for so long that it’s become uninhabitable.

    But it could not be any other way because their money is confiscated from the taxpayers by force & sent to them, rather than them having to prove to their donors that they are effective stewards of their money.

    Canadians are generous people & if the government would just stay out I would fully expect private charity to step in more than it already has & render a more effective, more efficient, & ultimately more dignified service to those in need. Meanwhile there would be less overall resentment of those in need if the money to do as poor a job as Toronto Housing or whatever its name is were not being taken from their paycheques or property taxes.

    I’m a private landlord & Toronto’s inefficient & expensive city government has led me to swear to keep my money out of Toronto’s city limits. So while you think that more government intervention is needed, remember that a government expanded beyond what privately employed taxpayers (& the privately employed drive the entire economy, we’re the ones who create the economic wealth that fills government coffers) consider reasonable discourages investment & thus keeps the money away from rich & poor alike. It also passes on the expense to ordinary working people; I am a landlord, but my holdings are very modest, I only break even on them, & meanwhile I’m just a blue-collar worker in my late 20s at a job paying just over 30k/a, paying rent for an apartment like most people my age. Would I ever live in Toronto? Absolutely not – at my wage & at Toronto’s high property tax rate, I could not come close to affording Toronto rents. And even with Toronto’s high rents, there’s more money to be made in small-town Ontario at their deflated prices & low tax rates. The fact that profit margins in Toronto are so low means that any landlord brave enough to invest there will have to keep rent high just pay for the mortgage & the property taxes, otherwise (s)he won’t be able to afford the maintenance and the working classes will be faced with ever-increasing rents for ever-shoddier properties. I’m sure that thanks to the safety-net programs you advocate, many Torontonians in my modest income bracket are having trouble paying rent, but not availing themselves of services offered by government employees earning twice their wage, plus job security of which the private sector can only dream, plus gold-plated pensions. I’m convinced that the best way to ensure an equitable and efficient distribution of wealth is to let people keep as much of their own money as possible whilst giving generous tax breaks for charitable donations.

  3. […] Homeless and Hungry came up on Homeless Man Speaks. Apparently there are still people who think that we don’t have poor or hungry people here in Canada. […]

  4. Rebecca Doll Says:

    Hey Philip & Tony, it looks like maybe I posted in your comments. Not sure how. So much the better.
    I think we need more used-to-be homeless people and used-to-be hungry people to speak out so that people start to see the big picture.
    Thanks for doing your part for awareness.

  5. Paul Says:

    For too many people, the homeless are invisible. Sure, they may be on the street corner or in front of your local Tim’s asking for spare change, but so very many people have developed a set of blinders that allow them to ignore and in many cases, not even see the beggar in front of them.

    The causes of homelessness are legion. We know about the biggies: disability; domestic violence; mental health issues; poverty; prison release and re-entry into society; substance abuse; unemployment and so many others. I saw guys who had been soldiers trying to deal with their nightmares from Bosnia and who ended up living on the street. Or the construction workers from the Maritimes who ended up in Alberta to discover that the land of milk & honey wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

    With an annual homicide rate of about 35 people a year, you realize just how deep the problems go. There were incidents of tight-assed-upper-class-white-boys coming into the inner city just to beat up some homeless guy for fun and then jumping into the daddy-given BMW and roaring back to regale their friends. So much for cultured Edmonton society.

    The problem is as some have said here … most people refuse to believe that the homeless are really homeless. I had a chance to do some community work in the inner city of Edmonton a couple of years ago and, at that time, there were about FIVE THOUSAND men, women and children living on the streets in what is arguably one of the richest cities in the country. But for 99% of the Edmonton population, unless you were near the Mustard Seed soup kitchen at supper time or near the Herb Jamieson shelter in the early evening, you would have no idea how many people take advantage of those services.

    Unless you went into the Bissell Centre during the day or the Boyle Community Health Centre, you would never see the homeless or those barely making it on a disability allowance. At that time, if you were classified as disabled by a doctor, you could qualify for about $1000a month from government. Many people were paying $800+ for a room or a couple of rooms that most of us wouldn’t think about living in. Once again though, they are invisible.

    There’s no better example of that for me than the plan by Edmonton city council to tear down the inner city buildings that house so many of the homeless and in their place to build expensive condominiums and lots of “green space” for the well-to-do citizens of the burgh. I remember one woman sitting in the middle of an undeveloped lot one day and saying to me “welcome to my living room”.

    Where would the homeless go as a result of this “development”? It was clear at the meetings that I attended that the city planners could care less. As long as they moved out of the prime real estate area that would pay big taxes to city coffers.

    Yeah, the homeless are invisible.

  6. Mark State Says:

    Tony and I form an old friendship. He’s a panhandler, and he’s been homeless for a long time.

    I don’t think anybody disagrees that homeless people are poverty stricken for the most part and are victims of the social safety net that magicians Mike Harris and Ernie Eves vanished before our naive and willingly participatory eyes. (Live and learn!)

    But differentiate, please, between “homeless” and “panhandling”. The former is a plight that shames the society who harbours it; and demands remedial attention. The latter is a contributory enterprise: a trade-off of goods and services. Depending on the type of panhandling, it can create returns on a varying scale…depending upon the type of approach taken to one’s patrons and its location.

    Dan G. Hilton was unable to make the differentiation. Perhaps he should consult with Stats Can’s (2006, I think it was) homeless enumeration where fully 5/6 of all homeless people declared they would rather be off the street, housed, and employed.

    Income aside, it is certainly not an exaggeration to say that most panhandlers do indeed form an addicted component of society; and that’s why they can’t keep the money they earn.

    Those who are not addicted, and do keep their money, have to be very careful nowadays to not be spotted by the media.

    Recall what happened to that media-persecuted elderly woman who had the condos in Hamilton after some jerk of a reporter found out about her and exposed her to his readers for a witch-hunt.

    Before we running off forming mistaken impressions when a generally uninformed writer like Hilton lets us think panhandling and addiction are synonymous with homelessness, consider the source. In Dan’s case, his source was a deeply impressed child driving around with his dad.

    Maybe just ask somebody who actually knows, like Tony, his opinion of what percentage of panhandlers are by and large addicted to some substance or another, and what the difference is between panhandling and homelessness. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive (consider Tony himelsf), but they are clearly not the same thing.

  7. Mark State Says:

    yeah, yeah. I know. running OFF, and HIMSELF. I definitely need to slow down my typing speed.

  8. Mark State Says:

    yeah, yeah. I know. GO running offF, and HIMSELF. I definitely need to slow down my typing speed.

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