Homelessness is an ongoing, complex issue experienced by 100 million people worldwide today.1 Although there is no absolute definition of homelessness, it is commonly defined as the condition in which people have no access to safe, permanent housing.2 When we think of people who are homeless, we often think of them beyond our reach, and may even affiliate them in those living in impoverished nations. However, homelessness is a seriously misunderstood problem. The reality is that Canada carries a considerable homeless population, as many as 30, 000 Canadians on any given night,3 and around 400 of them are within our own locality, Kingston and the Frontenac County.4 Homelessness, then, is not simply a far-distanced issue but one that is very nearby.
Poverty and homelessness go hand-in-hand.5 Difficult economic circumstances such as low-income jobs, unemployment, and rising property fees and living costs are barriers that force individuals and entire families to move out of their unaffordable homes and seek for alternative shelter.6 In Kingston, a significant 15% of households earn less than the low income cut-off (LICO)7 which values around $30,487 for a family of four.8 Furthermore, an average 2-bedroom unit in Kingston is deemed unaffordable for nearly 30% of the city population.9 Without adequate income and reasonably priced housing, people have limited economic freedom, as much of their income is devoted to other needs such as food and clothing.
In addition, various social factors root and exacerbate the situation of homelessness, including the lack of social inclusion across gender, race and sexuality, poorly funded services, and a weak sense of community and acceptance. A large proportion of the homeless in Kingston are identified as youth, Aboriginal, mixed-gender, and or mentally ill,10 and more than half of them are women.11 Scholars argue that Canada’s neoliberal federal agenda performs poorly in terms of its funding towards community organizations that support homeless youth.12
Addressing homelessness can be overwhelming, misunderstood, or even considered unnecessary as there is a public notion that the homeless are unworthy, lazy, and undeserving.13 I too, am guilty for once harbouring these thoughts as I can recount several times when I passed homeless people on the streets, feeling unsure and helpless. However, we must understand that people do not choose to be homeless with its dehumanizing, unbearable conditions.14 It is rather a reflection of our societal failure for being unable to give the much-needed assistance for people at risk of losing secure housing who then have no choice but live on the streets, in abandoned cars and buildings, and less visibly, in temporary shelters and friends’ homes.15
So then, what can be done? Although homelessness is far more complex than what I have described, helping the local homeless in Kingston is possible. One crucial step is to be informed. We need to understand that homelessness occurs from several factors often beyond one’s control. Also, knowing that university student housing demands contribute to the rising costs of housing would create an understanding of how localized and interconnected the Kingston homeless are with students just like you and I. Another important contribution that would help address homelessness is to volunteer in shelters or food-delivery non-profit organizations such as Loving Spoonful and Queen’s Soul Food.
Homelessness is a globally widespread issue but one that is also right outside our doors. The fact that homelessness numbers are increasing in Canada16 should encourage us to take action now. As responsible students, citizens of Kingston, individuals of the world, we should be part of the effort in combating homelessness by replacing its violence, stress, and degradation with compassion, companionship, and inclusion.
- Sari Ohsada