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Vicky Mochama: The voice of Metro News.

Homelessness isn't the result of a lack of morals: Mochama

People experiencing homelessness have stepped up with a bravery and kindness that has not been matched in return by the government.

On a visit to Vancouver this week, Miloon Kothari, former UN special rapporteur on housing, was appalled to see homelessness persisting since a visit 10 years ago.

Jen St. Denis / Metro Order this photo

On a visit to Vancouver this week, Miloon Kothari, former UN special rapporteur on housing, was appalled to see homelessness persisting since a visit 10 years ago.

For most people, homelessness isn’t a lifestyle choice. Rather it is the remaining option when government services and society have failed.

Yet in the past few days, people experiencing homelessness have stepped up with a bravery and kindness that has not been matched.

In Thunder Bay, Ont., a First Nations man gave $10,000 from his Residential Schools settlement to a shelter as thanks for its help when he needed their services. During the Manchester bombing, two men sleeping rough — as the Brits call it — rushed into the dangerous melee to help until emergency services arrived.

One of them, Stephen Jones, told reporters, “Just because I’m homeless doesn’t mean I haven’t got a heart, or I’m not human. I’d like to think someone would come and help me if I needed the help.”

I’d like to think that, too, but it hasn’t always been true. The 35,000 people in Canada who nightly face sleeping on the street have a right to adequate housing that isn’t being met.

In fact, the homelessness situation has worsened over the last decade. In 2007, the United Nations called it a “national emergency.” Back then the UN’s former special rapporteur on housing, Miloon Kothari, described it as a “crisis.”

Visiting Vancouver this week for a talk at Simon Fraser University and a meeting with city officials, Kothari was appalled.

“The number of homeless people has grown, 30 per cent over three years. The welfare rates — shockingly — are exactly the same as when I was here in 2007,” he said. The city’s policies ensure a segregation between the rich and the poor, which Kothari considers a kind of “apartheid.” 

There have been some changes. For example, Toronto stopped bulldozing tent cities and now uses a process designed to connect the homeless with social services. Still, the city removes more than 150 such encampments every year, according to the CBC. Clearly, the city’s homelessness problem is not abating. Nationally, there is still a lack of unified planning.

There is some hope: a National Housing Strategy is on the horizon.

The government’s preliminary report speaks directly to some of the most dire issues in housing: Indigenous housing, homelessness, veteran housing, and mental health and addiction.

To prevent homelessness, we should see it as a result of intersecting issues. The homelessness crisis isn’t because of a lack of morals in homeless people.

Inspired by the Thunder Bay man, people are donating to the shelter. Crowdfunding campaigns for the Manchester men have yielded more than $90,000.

Many have responded to the murder of Chrissy Archibald in the London terror attack by donating time and money to homeless shelters and soup kitchens.

From grand acts of heroism to the daily heroism of surviving, homeless people deserve the full dignity of adequate housing.

It’s time for the government to step up.

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