A homeless man sleeps in a doorway in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Monday, Dec.19, 2016. A new report calls on the federal government to not just think about opening the back door to help people out of homelessness, but to close the front door as well, to make sure they don’t become homeless in the first place. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Report calls for federal rethink on poverty

National approach needed

OTTAWA — A new report calls on the federal government to not just think about opening the back door to help people out of homelessness, but to close the front door as well, to make sure they don’t become homeless in the first place.

The paper released Thursday by researchers at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness says that the money poured annually into helping fund emergency services for the country’s homeless is only one part of the equation, as are additional dollars spent on housing those who need it.

What’s needed is a national approach that sees a need to stop homelessness from occurring, similar to the preventive approach taken in health care, the authors say.

They discuss the need for income supports for low-income earners, such as higher minimum wages or benefit rates, boosting the stock of affordable housing, anti-discrimination training for social workers, service providers and first responders, as well as a more co-ordinated approach to poverty spending.

That spending could include, for example, programs targeted at helping children in child services make the transition to adult life, because they are more likely to become homeless and stay that way longer, making it more difficult to pull them out of it.

A spokeswoman for Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the Liberals’ thinking on homelessness is in line with the approach the paper advocates, pointing to federal spending on mental health services, skills training, and the new child benefit.

Yet even the authors of the report acknowledge that the idea of putting public dollars and effort towards prevention is, in some cases, a controversial idea.

“Could you imagine if we built our health-care system around the emergency department and said once we deal with all those people who come into emerg, then we’ll start talking about other kinds of care,” said Stephen Gaetz, director of the observatory and one of the authors of the study.

“It’s not controversial to say we should prevent cancer or the flu, or that we should prevent highway traffic deaths, but it is around homelessness,”

The paper is the first of its kind in Canada to detail what is meant by preventing homelessness — what works and what doesn’t work — and comes as the federal Liberals are set to release a national housing strategy and are starting talks about the future of the government’s central anti-poverty program.

The Liberals launched public consultations in February to help craft a poverty reduction strategy and are setting up an advisory committee to produce a national proposal that they expect to deliver by the fall.

It’s estimated that some three million Canadians live in poverty and 235,000 experience homelessness annually.

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