Shrive to do better

Yesterday was ‘Pancake Day’, and there was also much talk about homelessness. Let’s not keep it to a single day.

“The word shrove is a form of the English word shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by way of Confession and doing penance. Thus Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the custom for Christians to be “shriven” before the start of Lent.”

Thus, Wikipedia describes the custom of indulging before the fast or sacrifice of Lent, which is also celebrated in other Christian cultures (for instance, with Mardi Gras).

Besides the tradition of shrove-ing some pancakes down the gullet, groups like the provincial Housing and Homelessness Network and others have been using the opportunity to raise funds and awareness for housing and anti-homelessness initiatives around Labrador and Newfoundland (for 11 years running), and Canada more broadly. Kudos to the droves of volunteers who pull off these events, to those who offer media support, and even to the political glad-handers who make appearances. So with every glutch of fluffy sweetness, we can also pat ourselves on the back that we’ve done something for the community as well.

Ironic? Or apt?

Either way, feasting then fasting should serve to remind us all that there are those in society that simply don’t ever have the basics that others “give up” for their 40 days of Lent. Not having a permanent place to live causes an immense level of stress in one’s life, in turn affecting our uncertainty, employability, ability to plan and eat properly, mental and health related issues, and so on.

Regardless of your personal or political views on homelessness (whether you subscribe to ‘they do it to themselves’ thinking or other cultural and ethnic biases), homelessness costs you, the tax payers, roughly $7 billion a year in Canada. Proportionally, that’s $100 million a year for the province. The cost for spaces other than affordable housing for Labrador and Newfoundland is broken down on page four of this dated document (for instance, $400+ a day for taking up hospital beds). Contrast that to reports that indicate the cost to fix the problem of homelessness would be roughly half of what it costs us for not fixing it, on an annual basis. You can learn more in the 2014 Report on the State of Homelessness here. The benefits of fixing homelessness are also broken down in a recently released report here, on page 42.

Quick’n’dirty look at NL

The facts ain’t pretty:

  • 1,700 people per year need emergency shelter
  • 150 unsheltered homeless people (living in tents, sheds, etc.)
  • 3,800 hidden homeless people (who I’ve written about before)
  • 10 per cent of the province’s homeless live in Labrador, a place which has only five per cent of the province’s population
  • and six per cent of Labrador’s population are on income support (the second lowest region on income support in NL — below the Avalon by a long shot, as you can see on page 38)

 Why the inaction?

Yeah, sure, the price tag today seems high since we’re effectively paying for the temporary fix of hospital beds, jails, short term shelters ($40,000 per year) etc., and building new housing ($20,000 per year) at the same time. And there’s a budget crunch coming for the next five years. But like the unfunded pension liability/debt ratio problem, not fixing the issue costs taxpayers more in the long run (not to mention the individual socioeconomic costs to those caught in their own personal hell, and who are not getting a hand up to help them become net contributors).

Perhaps we simply don’t see their problem as our problem. Or perhaps we just don’t see them at all. Or worse, we don’t see them as people. Pam Frampton wrote a column on this very subject that was published on Valentine’s Day, and got practically no social media play. I’m not saying that handing over money to people on the street will do much direct good, other than provide them a bite to eat or a bit of self-medication.

To be fair…

The provincial government has been looking to patch up some of the holes in our system. A replacement for the closed residence in Goose Bay (why it was allowed to deteriorate to the point of closing, I don’t know)—as well as housing and support in central Labrador—has received support, and the premier has issued marching orders to develop a housing and homelessness strategy.

It’s great to see policy being developed, and to me there is no greater reason to have an election other than to debate the policies the public will support for the coming term of office. But why is this only happening now? Why not when we were awash in oil money? Is it just that we have a new benevolent leader, or is it because there’s an election coming? Who knows. And it doesn’t really matter.

What matters…

Is that we have regions of the province in boom, regions in bust, and no strategy in place to deal with the costs to those in society. Because both boom and bust causes homelessness. The Goose Bay and Labrador West regions are regions of heavy return for the province, yet they have the least available affordable housing in the province. Rent is often $3,000-$4,000 a month and the region often plays a ‘collector’ role as a destination for coastal Labrador migrants. Similarly, the more populous areas of Newfoundland experience a similar migration of homeless people.

I know I’m not adding anything new to the discussion, but I wanted to add my voice and help raise awareness about the issues of homelessness, hidden homelessness, and lack of affordable housing because it really isn’t being discussed enough. There should be no shortage of the basic necessities of life, no overcrowding of homes, and none of the associated socioeconomic impacts, in regions like Labrador, which is contributing billions of dollars to the province.

Scratch that

It shouldn’t happen at all — not in sharing societies like Newfoundland and Labrador. Certainly not when billions of free, low-effort oil dollars are pouring in. As a side note, when I was recently in Norway, I saw practically zero homeless people on the street — it appears they have some things figured out.

Now that the reports are being compiled, and strategies and policies being developed, it’s up to you the voting public to learn about the issues, push for those policies, and make sure the government takes action on them. Because we all have too much familiarity with government reports and their propensity for dust-collecting.

I’m glad you Lent me your ear!

Editor’s note: If you would like to respond to this or any article on, or if you would like to address an issue we haven’t yet covered, we welcome letters to the editor and consider each of them for publication in our Letters section. You can email yours to: justin at theindependent dot ca. Not all letters will be printed, but all will be read.

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