Kelowna, like other cities across Canada, has what it takes to end homelessness, but the federal government needs to step up to make it happen, says one of the leading authorities on the problem.
“Without a national housing plan, you in Kelowna can’t do what you need to end homelessness,” said Michael Shapcott, affordable housing and social innovation director at the Toronto-based Wellesley Institute, a non-profit research organization.
Shapcott was the keynote speaker at the UBC Okanagan leg of the B.C. Affordable Housing Research and Action roundtable.
“There needs to be capital funding for the brick and mortar. (A national housing plan) would be a reference guide organizations pull off the shelf,” Shapcott said.
He compared the Gross Domestic Product to the population, highlighting that doing so ranks this nation the seventh most wealthy on the global stage.
Conversely, it’s the only country in the OECD (Organizaton for Economic Co-operation and Development) that’s failed to come up with a national housing plan.
“We have a patchwork system that’s not meeting the needs of Canadians,” he said.
Shapcott pointed out that even the U..S has a plan to stop homelessness in the next decade, and their problem is, proportionately, more daunting.
As is, estimates show that anywhere from 150,000 to 300,000 Canadians are homeless, but the more telling figure, says Shapcott, is that 3.1 million Canadians live in unaffordable housing.
It’s a national weakness that’s ultimately costing taxpayers a lot of money, he said, pointing to the fact that even the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has lamented the price to business.
Access to affordable housing shapes the social, economic and political life of a society and when its lacking, it impacts the health of a nation.
By his estimates, Canada could save billions in health care dollars if investments were made in addressing affordable housing.
While it may seem like an overly daunting task to get the federal government to pour money into programs they’ve been cutting since the 1990s, Shapcott said support for private members bill C-304, which calls for a national housing strategy, could be the impetus needed to get the government going.
“They say it’s not a national issue, it’s a local issue,” he said.
“But in fact this is a problem for the federal government. (Getting adequate housing for Canadians) is not just a problem, it’s their legal responsibility.”