It is a big news week in the social justice circuit. Two very important reports have been released that highlight exactly how Canada is faring in regards to poverty. The first report from the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness offers a current perspective on the state of homelessness in Canada, while the second report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Save the Children describes a shocking reality in regards to First Nations child poverty. Here are brief snapshots of both and related links:
The State of Homelessness in Canada 2013
Adding to the growing awareness that housing issues, and homelessness in particular, are detrimental to individual health and costly to governments, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness released an update on Canada’s current homeless population. The report notes that at least 200,000 people are homeless across the country, with 30,000 people homeless on any given night. It also points to 1.3 million people who have experienced homelessness within the last five years and the total pricetag for this situation – $7 billion annually.
The report is an effort to bring forward evidence of Canada’s homelessness problem, to highlight current best practices across the country and to also make recommendations for how to move forward. A few highlights include the reduction in street homelessness in Vancouver (by 66%), Toronto (by 51%) and Edmonton (by 30%) as well as the recent investments in the Housing First approach modeled after the “At Home/Chez Soi” project that was federally funded.
Six recommendations were outlined to improve homelessness in Canada, the first being that all levels of government should work on plans to address the issue. Recently the federal government voted down a bill that would have established a national housing strategy, which is one of its obligations under international law. Perhaps with pressure from the United Nations Human Rights Council, which reviewed Canada’s human rights record in April, and after reviewing reports such as this one, the government will agree it is in everyone’s best interest to end homelessness.
50% of Indigenous Children Live in Poverty
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Save the Children Canada released a shocking report noting that half of status First Nations children are living in poverty. “Poverty or Prosperity: Indigenous Children in Canada” also went beyond this stat to reveal other vulnerable groups and what their current child poverty rates are: racialized children – 22%, immigrant children – 33%, and Inuit, Metis and non-status First Nations – 37%. This is compared to a 12% child poverty rate for all remaining children in Canada, and an overall child poverty of 17%, which places Canada 25th out of 30 developed countries.
The poverty measurement used in the report is the Low Income Measure, which places the poverty line at half the median income. The poverty rates are the result of poor federal investment in programs and supports for status First Nations. The federal government is responsible for all health care, income supports and education on reserves. What the report also noted was that the problem of poverty is not just one of income, but also a lack of services. While increased income supports are needed (income supports have been capped at 2% since 1996 without allowance for population growth or rising prices), the report states that supporting Aboriginal entrepreneurs, connecting First Nations peoples with jobs in the resource sector, and allowing for self-government are also needed to address the issue.
The total cost of investment is estimated to be $1 billion for indigenous children, or $7.5 billion for all children in Canada. While that cost may seem high, the return on investment would exceed this amount. The report quotes the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples that stated that lost productivity and remedial costs also equated to $7.5 billion – but that was over a decade ago.
Not only is child poverty harming children now, but it is harming the prosperity of our society in the future. Children are being set up to fail, and in regards to Indigenous children, it hardly seems as though they are getting a fair chance. The opening line of the report sums this up, “Canada cannot and need not allow yet another generation of Indigenous citizens to languish in poverty.”