Can a Band-Aid Solution Break the Vicious Cycle of Homelessness?

According to Fred Victor, more than 8,000 people experiencing homelessness in Toronto are sleeping outdoors, in shelters, emergency respite centres, health centres, and correctional facilities every night. 98% of Toronto shelters are occupied every night.

Downtown Yonge reports that homelessness costs the City of Toronto $421, 386 per night due to the costs of shelters, police wellbeing checks and healthcare and correctional facilities.

The below freezing temperatures in Toronto this month have inspired many poverty advocacy groups to protest at City Hall for the government to declare homelessness a human rights issue and declare a state of emergency, with the majority of protestors claiming that the main reason for this crisis is lack of funding and an unaffordable housing market. Meanwhile, at a city council meeting Toronto Mayor John Tory dismissed the idea of declaring homelessness a human rights crisis, saying "I don't even know what that means." 

As a student studying criminology and political science, I get more curious every day about the array of social issues surrounding me; especially homelessness. I am constantly trying to understand what causes homelessness and how it can be reduced or prevented.

As a way to learn more about the issue I visited various shelters and churches participating in Toronto’s “Out of the Cold” program, which aims to create safe havens for those experiencing homelessness and provide them basic needs such as food and housing. I thought that visiting these spaces and observing the situations in each location would perhaps provide me with some insight on the complex issue of homelessness.

During my time at these shelters I learned that these issues cannot be solved by simply putting a financial band-aid on it. That being, there are so many underlying complexities that cannot possibly be resolved by financial aid.

Some say homelessness is a result of mental illness, some suspect it to be the high cost of rent, others believe it to be addiction, discrimination, or ineffective reintegration after incarceration.

What I have begun to understand throughout my research is that homelessness is not the issue. Homelessness is the result of so many intersecting issues within our world today that all combine to leave a person without a home.

In the shelters I saw people who were facing obstacles which would not simply disappear if the shelter got more funding or if Toronto’s rent prices magically became  more affordable.

Issues of substance abuse, addiction, and mental health run rampant amongst the population experiencing homelessness, with 75% struggling with mental illness, according to Fred Victor. A recent North American study revealed that two thirds of people living on the streets blamed alcohol and/or drug use for their homelessness, according to Addiction Resource.

I believe we need to focus especially on the youth living without homes, working to be proactive rather than retroactive. Homelessness can never be solved by more shelters, better beds, or more food banks. We need to work to address the issues of an individual while they are still young, with special attention to mental health awareness. This requires increased funding and employment in mental health care workers, more regulated child protective services and so on.

Homelessness is not an issue that you can throw money at to solve. There needs to be more thought and consideration into the decisions we make and the direct impact it will have on others.

My thoughts on the issue of homelessness are complex and at times contradictory to one another, but I do know this: band-aids do not heal wounds; they cover them up. We want to be a part of a world that works to heal and mend, not conceal.