The solution to homelessness? More slots, less austerity

News 2 February, 2018
  • Photo Hugo Duchaine

    Evelyne Couturier

    Friday, February 2, 2018 12:00

    Friday, February 2, 2018 12:16

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    Three years ago, Montreal was for the first time in the enumeration of homeless people on its territory. Hundreds of volunteers have walked the streets to interview those who were sleeping outside about their situation. The exercise, although imperfect, has put a number on a complex reality, a figure, which then can serve as a reference for tracing its evolution. The next year, he will, in effect, the account. However, as this work was not started until 2015, it is difficult to see the real effect and complete the austerity on homelessness in the metropolis. That’s unfortunate because, as demonstrated by an article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) which looked into the case of the United Kingdom, there was a direct link between the policies of “austerity” budget and the increase of homelessness.

    According to the authors, three factors explain the dramatic increase in ridership that they observe between 2010 and 2017 in the United Kingdom. During this period, the number of households who are homeless recognized from 50 000 to 78 000. The first question is almost too simple : real-estate speculation has made private housing unaffordable. The government has not only very little box on the market, but it was not able to not more to compensate with the creation of social and affordable housing units. In the absence of an alternative to cope with the increase in the price of rent, not surprising that many turn to the street.

    Then come the cuts in the fight of homelessness itself. Grants for shelters have declined under the pretext of reach as quickly as possible to a balanced budget. The same shift is made in the public services. The result is a system that, for lack of resources, is struggling to meet the needs of a vulnerable population. Early intervention is often the difference between a period of temporary instability and a situation that continues today.

    Finally, and in connection with the first reason, the government of Great-Britain is engaged in a reform of its social assistance program, reducing benefits related to housing. Although rents increased by an average of 2% per year, the increase in the subsidy associated with this élémaent was limited to only 1%. Once again, it is not surprising that the situation has led some individuals and families to make the non-choice of no longer having a roof.

    To ignore the consequences in the medium and long term of their financial decisions is a common practice for governments neo-liberal. Cut in the support for the most precarious, in the programmes of social housing and in public services causes irreparable harm to the people who will lose access. Insult is added to injury when one realizes, a few years later, that the sacrifices required of the poor become “gifts” pre-election for the middle class, as we have seen recently in Quebec with the tax cuts granted by the government Couillard.


    For the roaming, the effectiveness of the strategies “housing first” is, however, known and recognised for many years. The principle is very simple : to help those who live in the street just… you can stay, offer them a permanent home and stable. The paternalistic attitude which is to demand that people stop drinking, consume, or agree to follow a therapy or to undergo treatments before having a roof is not as effective. Of course, it is essential that services and support are associated with the initiative, but they must be respecting the people who need help. It is also necessary that the social resources and money to be at the rendezvous, and that they would not be cut off at the discretion of wills austéritaires of the governments in power. In which case, as we watch the example of Great Britain, these are real lives that are at stake.