The Hamilton Spectator

Homelessne­ss is getting worse

- LAURA BABCOCK LAURA BABCOCK IS THE PRESIDENT OF POWERGROUP COMMUNICAT­IONS.

All across this country, communitie­s are facing an alarming rise in homelessne­ss as Canada grapples with post-pandemic inflation, a housing crisis at a level not seen since the Second World War, an opioid epidemic, a growing population and outdated ideas about why people are living in tents and doorways.

We all know it’s getting worse. It’s harmful to our unhoused neighbours, our local economy and our civic pride.

We can blame successive past government­s for not building enough housing stock, and while we need ambitious immigratio­n with our aging workforce, it’s reasonable to blame Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for not having adequate housing and support in place for the large number of immigrants coming to the country.

Likewise, we can blame Premier Doug Ford for removing rent controls, underfundi­ng the Ontario Disabiliti­es Support Program (ODSP) and exacerbati­ng the affordabil­ity and rental crisis that is driving people of all ages into homelessne­ss.

But blaming the other levels of government does not absolve us locally from our responsibi­lities.

Business leaders, developers and mayors nationwide are taking bold steps to build small cabins and start transition­ing unhoused people to supportive housing. For instance, Canadian tech millionair­e Marcel LeBrun has invested in 12 Neighbours, a planned community of 99 affordable tiny homes in Fredericto­n, N.B. Similarly, Vancouver city council approved tiny shelters in 2022. Many cities and towns across the country are progressin­g, and there are best practices to learn from.

Chronic homelessne­ss is not a Hamilton problem, but it will be a Hamilton failure if we don’t address it.

Make no mistake, it’s a choice to let our neighbours spend each night exposed to the elements.

It’s a choice to look past the throngs of cold, sick and desperate people on the street with their haunted faces, hopeless eyes and quivering hands.

It’s a choice to see a community of dilapidate­d tents as a blight to remove instead of people and families who need food, water, supplies and support to survive until they can transition to supportive housing. A baby was recently born in one of those tents.

The good news is that we can make a better choice. A housing first strategy, where support for any mental health issues, substance use or other challenges is provided after a person is housed, has an over 80 per cent success rate of people remaining housed after the first year. Other countries have done it. They’ve proven it works to shelter people to be safe, supported and successful. It’s the right thing to do morally and economical­ly. Communitie­s across Canada know a housing-first approach works and are coming together to build tiny houses for their neighbours, like a good old-fashioned barn raising. In Hamilton, we keep making excuses: wrong location, wrong timing, wrong process.

Excuses are easy to make, but leadership is defined by the ability to see a problem, communicat­e a vision to solve it and bring people together to overcome any obstacles and realize the vision. Real leaders step up to meet the moment.

Where are the successful business people, many developers, who financed Mayor Andrea Horwath’s campaign? Why aren’t they working together to build tiny shelters and help transition people to housing first? Why aren’t they using their immense resources and knowledge to help improve our city’s safety, economy and appeal?

There has been some big talk and opposition to the Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters’ tiny cabin project, but there is no evidence of action. It’s easy to point out the problems and tear down ideas, finding solutions and building up is much tougher.

So many communitie­s have taken action, there can be no more excuses about why it can’t be done here. Hamilton is becoming a national embarrassm­ent as our mayor, council and business community fail to show leadership on the greatest challenge of our time.

It’s time to step up as a community with compassion and commitment and build the shelter our neighbours need to transition to supportive housing. That’s what real leaders do.

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