Where does the money go?
According to the 2008 Plan for Alberta, there are 11,000 homeless people living in the province. Of those, 3,000 are chronically homeless. Managing the chronically homeless population costs the system $114,850 per person per year.
Edmonton East MP Peter Goldring is disputing the numbers, saying that they're inflated to justify a new shelter project. Perhaps Mr Goldring is right, yet the numbers are not entirely unbelievable. Here is an article from the Toronto Star:
According to a 2007 Wellesley Institute report cited by the CHRN, the average monthly expense of housing a homeless person in a Toronto hospital is $10,900. To provide them with a shelter bed costs $1,932. But here is where the data may surprise you: Putting a roof over that same person’s head, either with rent supplements or social housing, would require just $701 or $199.92, respectively. In fact, a similar study conducted in British Columbia discovered that province’s homeless population currently costs the public system $55,000 per person per year, but if every homeless person were instead provided with adequate housing and supports, they would require just $37,000 — saving the province $211 million annually.
Hmm. There are an awful lot of Canadians who live on less than $37,000 a year. Whatever figure one accepts the general view is that housing the homeless is an inordinately expensive prospect. But why? Even here in the Imperial Capital a mediocre one bedroom apartment can be had for less than $1000 a month. If you're willing to live in Scarborough you can rent for less than $500. The question that comes to mind is why none of the homeless apply for social assistance.
Part of the answer is that it requires an enormous amount of paperwork. But applying for social housing ain't easy either as it also requires an enormous amount of paperwork. So simply building more housing units will be of little help for those unable to jump the appropriate bureaucratic hoops. When government tries to solve a problem it costs an awful lot, there is much paper pushing and the results are usually dreadful. The phrase "social housing" fills real estate agents and homeowners with dread. An entire neighbourhood can see its market values stagnate or even drop because of a few dozen government housing units.
The ultimate cause of homeless isn't a lack of housing, it's the homeless themselves. Millions of immigrants have arrived in this country in recent decades, yet very few of them find themselves on the street. So even without language skills, lacking proper documentation in many cases, and confronted with an alien culture most still make their own way. Looking at Canadian society as a whole homelessness is actually an extremely minor problem.
Let's take the 2008 Plan for Alberta at its word, that in Wild Rose country there are 11,000 people living without stable housing arrangements. The province of Alberta has about 3.6 million residents. So the homeless comprise about .3% of the overall population. There are countless social problems that afflict far more than .3% of the population yet garner far less media and government attention. The power of homelessness is its emotional impact. People are terrified of living alone and on the streets. They feel deeply sorry for those who find themselves living without a roof. This emotionally clouds the issue and prevents rational public debate.
The overwhelming majority of those living on Canada's streets are mentally ill or addicts. Their problem isn't housing, that's just a symptom. They are mentally unfit to fend for themselves, either temporarily or permanently. That doesn't justify, nor should it ever justify, callousness. Placing the problem in its proper context is a step toward dealing with it. Failing to do so allows politicians and activists an opening to play on the sympathies of Canadians. Every social housing complex requires contractors, politicians and bureaucrats to build and maintain. Each has a vested interest in conflating mental health issues, which are difficult to handle or explain, with economic challenges and easy sounding government solutions.
The Victorians had a saying: There's always money in the poor.