Is there a Solution to Homelessness? – An Interview with MP Don Davies
By Emily McBain-Ashfield, Grade 12
Throughout the past few decades, there has been a serious increase in the number of homeless people in downtown Vancouver. With the lack of affordable housing and well-paid jobs and 70% of youth having been abused as a child, it is hard to see a light at the end of this dark tunnel. Wondering about the political aspects of the situation as well as possible solutions, I talked to Don Davies, MP for Vancouver Kingsway about the issue of homelessness in the Vancouver area.
When asked about the cause of homelessness, Davies said that over the past 25 years, we have pursued an economic path that has increased disparities between the rich and the poor. This has shrunk the middle class. For example, in the 1970’s, a family could live and buy a house with a single source of income. Nowadays, families are struggling to get by with two incomes or more per household. This is due to poor choices made by the federal government, including handing affordable housing over to the provincial governments in 1993.
In a study conducted in Canada in 2002, 70% of youth were found to have been either sexually, physically, or emotionally abused. Since a great percentage of homeless people are teens that have run away from home, it is clear that there is not enough support for children and young adults. Davies informed me that since the 90’s, the federal government has cut the spending on effective support systems and mental institutions by 30%. Our country has pursued conservative policies that believe public services should be limited. The education and growth of youth must have been negatively affected, given the lack of recreational facilities and strong medical and social supports.
Two percent of the Metro Vancouver population is First Nations. However, they make up 32% of the homeless population. Davies stated that the treatment of First Nations in Canada is a national disgrace. Some reserves have dire conditions similar to those found in third world countries. There is little access to clean water and regular schooling, not to mention that they are 6 times more likely to be thrown into a federal prison than any other Canadians. Davies thinks it’s time for the government and First Nations to sit down as equals and hammer out real solutions to these problems.
The City of Vancouver has put forth a plan which can allegedly end street homelessness by 2015. This seems to be quite a stretch and Davies agrees. He commends the city’s government for its leadership and action. However, he also says that the reality is we won’t be able to positively impact homelessness until all three levels of government – municipal, provincial, and federal – work together.
There are many ways to help solve the problems caused by homelessness. Something you might not know is that some of them are actually cheaper than the ones that are currently implemented! For instance, $24,000 can be saved if the city provides the homeless with adequate, affordable housing and services instead of letting them go in and out of emergency shelters. This is also $100,000 cheaper than putting them in prisons and mental institutions. But nonetheless, plans to build more prisons are still being made. According to Davies, this is because the Conservative government is using the politics of fear. We need to put more money towards homelessness prevention and adequate housing so that young families stay intact.
Near the end of my interview with Don Davies, I was discouraged by the way our federal government is heading. Nevertheless, it had been great hearing his opinions and knowing that there are politicians out there who are working hard to find a solution to one of the biggest problems faced by our country today.