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Rethink who are the homeless

In Canada, there are an estimated 50,000 invisible homeless in any given night, known as couch surfing and over 30,000 homeless that stay on the streets, or in shelters. Of these people, only 7,000 suffer from addictions, mental illness, isolation or depression.

A great majority are working class people, and their families. They simply can’t afford the high cost of living, and the unattainable cost of paying rent and utilities. Good housing is scarce.

In Canada, at least 1.3 million Canadians have experienced homelessness or experienced a situation where they were at risk to being homeless. Every year over 200,000 Canadians have experienced a period of being homeless.

Long stigmatized as mentally ill, addicts, alcoholics or just plain lazy, actual numbers are that over two thirds of homeless receive income from a job or social assistance. Surprise to some that twenty-four percent of homeless individuals work for income. Yes, work full time.

Factors contributing to this state of oppressive living conditions are more than often factors other than mental illness or addiction. Unemployment or job loss, insufficient income, unable to find affordable housing, domestic violence and poor education or job skills are more than likely to lead one to being homeless.

I firmly believe that once homeless, without proper nutrition, education, housing and community support the homeless where they began their journey due to, say, job loss ride a slippery slope into other factors leading to homelessness, such as addictions and mental illness.

Over 520,000 Canadians who have mental illness do not have adequate housing, and 120,000 homeless are mentally ill. In Canada, there are only 25,000 supportive housing units to support this marginalized population. Housing should come first.

Aboriginal people are 8 times more likely to experience homelessness in large Canadian cities, with 1 in 128 for the general population and 1 in 15 for our First Nation’s people.

The LBGT community, especially trans, queer and gay youth, are at risk to violence, discrimination and abuse as shelter staff, management and key decision makers are not equipped to deal with the specific issues of the LBGT community, and not equipped to deal with homophobia and transphobia within the shelter populations.

Discrimation against LBGT youth is rampant on the streets and shelter system, with transgender youth suffering the highest discrimination and abuse. The ideology of ‘one size fits all’ does not accommodate the LBGT community, and changes must be made to adopt practices and housing that reflect the changing needs and diverse populations of the homeless populations.

More has to be done to end homelessness, and help people living in poverty. More emphasis should be on helping the ones most impacted - youth, LBGTQ members and indigenous people.

We have to break the cycle. Now.