Homeless Left Out In The Cold

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

January 22, 2009 Ed Cartoon

Some Western students living within the bubble of campus life might not realize the City of London has a significant homeless problem. But for the many students living downtown who have seen homeless individuals in their own backyards the problem is difficult to ignore. Local shelters who reported having to operate well over capacity during frigid winter months would likely agree.

In 2007 the City of London released a report that 40 per cent of the homeless in the area suffer from either addiction or some form of mental illness; however, those who call the shelters home are quick to point out the number is much higher, somewhere around 85 per cent.

The needs of the homeless extend farther than daily food and shelter. The lack of access to medication and the dependence on illegal drugs account for much of the reason why people are unable to successfully stay off the streets.

This is why shelters alone are not enough to help individuals create a better life.

Without long-term planning, it is easy for people to find themselves stuck in a rut of living day-to-day, meal-to-meal with no real opportunities for the future.

The government currently helps find employment for the disabled by reimbursing part of their wage to the employer. A similar program to assist those living in shelters would be a worthwhile initiative. This gives business owners an incentive to take a chance on those they would otherwise ignore.

Several shelters offer programs including money management and drug counselling. Expanding on these programs would not only aid the most vulnerable in our society, it would provide jobs to those willing to train or retrain in social services and counselling.

The onus is not only on the municipalities to ensure the homeless are fed, sheltered and clothed but also on the federal and provincial governments to acknowledge where change and attention are needed so people can successfully make a permanent transition off the streets.

With governments soon to announce infrastructure spending to boost the economy, creating jobs to build affordable housing is an ideal direction to take.

Homelessness is more than just a local problem; with the economy sinking quickly more people currently living just above the poverty line will soon become vulnerable.

A national poverty strategy focused on assistance for mental health issues and drug addiction tied to the creation of affordable housing options is more important than ever in a lagging economy.

For students wishing to make a difference volunteer work is always an option. More importantly though, students serious about change should take their privileged education and apply it to bettering our social support system.

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