Homelessness is hurting our community. Some of our neighbours have fallen on hard times and many who suffer from histories of abuse, addiction and mental illness end up sleeping rough. Living on the street is never part of anyone’s plan and we must make the decision that building strong neighbourhoods means ensuring that everyone has a safe place to sleep.
This is not merely a choice based on compassion but one of fiscal responsibility. How our most vulnerable live affects our capacity to build a city that is attractive to business and growth. As a former Executive Director of Shelter House I have worked with the homeless intensively and understand what it takes to make change. As a business owner I know the effect homelessness has on our business community and our ability to make Thunder Bay an attractive destination. Allowing homelessness to continue to go unchecked is a coward’s choice and we need strong leaders who aren’t afraid to face down our toughest problems.
We have the most expensive model for dealing with people experiencing homelessness. For example, housing 1 person at Shelter House costs approximately $1950 per month. Every ambulance call involving a high needs homeless individual costs approximately $490 per call, with EMS receiving 3-5 calls per night. Our homeless population is disproportionately represented in emergency room visits at the hospital and take up a disproportionate amount of police time. A 2005 study shows that the costs involved in dealing with a homeless person through the hospitals and jails can cost up to $120,000 annually.
The average person struggling with homelessness in Canada costs, on average, $53,144 per person per year. However, using the housing-first model, it would cost around $22,257 for the highest need users and $14,177 per year for moderate need individuals. The costs of homelessness are borne by our city and the solutions must come from us. We can’t hide behind the province and claim that homlessness isn’t a municipal issue. It affects our city directly, costs us dearly and if we don’t step up to solve the problem, no one else is going to save us.
Our city would reap huge cost savings by investing in housing our most vulnerable and providing them with the services they need. This will save thousands of police hours to be redirected towards violent criminals and unclog our ER and EMS services. It will take our most vulnerable from the streets into safe homes making it easier for our downtowns to thrive and our retail stores to flourish. Tourists will find clean, safe streets while those struggling with housing will find clean beds and supportive staff to help them get back on their feet.
My pledge will be to end chronic homelessness within 5 years. We must adopt a true housing-first approach to homelessness, end homelessness in Thunder Bay and make the choice to invest in ourselves to make our neighbourhoods strong. Ending homelessness is not only the right thing to do, it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do. It’s time we stop waiting for handouts from the province, start acting and choose great leaders with the courage to end this blight on our community.
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