In a society as advanced as ours, you wouldn’t expect to see such high numbers of homeless people. Studies show there are common contributing factors explaining why people are homeless, but I believe the real reason why most people are homeless cannot be attributed to these factors. A large number of people are homeless by successive bad choices, and society should take a preventive stance rather than just be blamed after the fact.
The Statistics Speak for Themselves
Calgary’s population in 1982 was 623,133 people and in 2002, it was 904,987 people. The math is this – Calgary’s population has increased by 281,854 people in the last twenty years; in fact, over 100,000 people in the last six years alone. That’s a lot of people! These figures represent more than just Calgarians having lots of babies, they represent a lot of people migrating to Calgary in search of a better life. Calgary has been in “boom mode” since about 1996, thanks primarily to the oil and gas industry which is doing pretty good for a change. Because of this, people all across Canada have been reading about how good it is in Calgary and they are flocking here in droves. The homeless problem in Calgary is accentuated by the fact that unless you have a petro-chemical degree or several years experience in the oil and gas industry, there isn’t much here for those in search of a good job. It has been said that Alberta has the highest number of people with university degrees, which makes sense considering what our main industry is, but an unemployed fisherman from an Atlantic province is not going to find an executive position at Shell Canada in Calgary. These “?hopeful for the future’ will probably wind up working a series of minimum wage jobs, living hand to mouth, and quite possibly wind up homeless. People need to be encouraged not to just pack up and move to another province without first doing some research. Simple research such as: What types of jobs are available? What type of education and experience is required for these jobs? How much do these jobs pay? Another no-brainer to be checked out first – how much is the average rent? The reality is people do more research when they buy a computer as opposed to moving to a new city. It’s nice to throw caution to the wind sometimes and take a chance, but are people really this naÃ¯ve? Wouldn’t it make sense to have a job and a place to live lined up before you threw your duffle bag in the back of your car and drove 5,000 miles to a city you know nothing about?
Calgary is Getting Expensive
Calgary has seen its rents climb to outrageously high levels in the past six years and is getting almost as expensive to live in as Vancouver and Toronto. Other than the Landlord & Tenant Act stating that a landlord cannot raise rent more than two times in a one-year period in Alberta, there is no cap on how much each of the two increases can be. This loosely translates into – when Calgary does well, the rents go up but the wages don’t. No politician or businessman in his right mind is going to agree to increase the minimum wage because government and business owners don’t want to pay more for what they are already getting virtually for free. Don’t forget, Alberta’s premier doesn’t believe in helping the weak so only the strong survive. In Alberta, the motto is “you snooze, you loose”. If you can’t afford to live on your $5.90 an hour job in Calgary, then you should probably move to a city or town that you can afford. Medicine Hat and Lethbridge are fine cities and much less expensive to live in. Don’t insist on starving to death in Calgary; there are other alternatives.
A Systemic Problem
There is much debate about the systemic problem of homelessness and some would argue that it begins in childhood, in the home. There are many things parents can teach their children and how to survive is one of them. Remember the saying “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for life”? It also goes to follow that if a person is considered a bad parent (loosely defined as anyone who does not meet the minimum standards of care for raising a child by providing adequate food, shelter, clothing, and care), a person who is either an alcoholic, a drug addict, or is working dead-end, minimum wage jobs, or has less than a grade 12 education, they probably aren’t properly preparing their children for a strong position in the real world. It is not the responsibility of the school system for preparing children for the real world: it is the responsibility of the parents. If parents don’t give their children a proper head start in the world, then these children’s risk of becoming homeless greatly increases. On the flip side, there are those parents who are good parents, and they do all the right things for their child, but for some funny reason, the child insists on making life-altering, bad decisions in their life.
The Slippery Slope to Homelessness
It is usually the same series of life-altering, bad decisions that eventually make a person homeless. The person has probably dropped out of high school, they may have had a child at a young age, and they are stuck in a low-paying, dead-end job. That this person is probably very depressed about their lot in life could mean the risk of turning to alcohol or drugs for some kind of relief; lower socio-economic status and substance abuse are a related fact (see: http://www.stthomasu.ca/research/youth/risk.htm). For a person living this type of lifestyle, long passages of time usually go by without any positive changes in their life and one day, the break up of a marriage, the loss of a job, or constant personal problems, wind up leaving the person homeless.
You might also wonder about those people who seemed to have everything and then they wound up homeless. These are people who had to have everything brand new, but they never had enough money to buy food. These are people who, even though they may have a good education and a good job, they are so grossly lacking in money management skills, and/or are so greedy, that they actually put themselves in the poor house. A classic example is the person lives way beyond their means and has a huge mortgage (or a second mortgage), one or two leased vehicles, the best cable package, the latest cell phone, a top-of-the-line computer with bells and whistles they’ll never use, and they always seemed dressed in the latest styles. Yes, you can live like this for a little while, but things will eventually catch up with you.
The biggest catalyst that puts most people on the street is the loss of their job. If you aren’t eligible for EI benefits and you don’t have at least three months worth of expenses saved, and you either don’t have a spouse or a spouse who makes good money, or a rich benevolent relative, you could be running this risk. The statistics in Calgary for people who are about one paycheque away from being homeless are scary! In fact, there are a large number of people who have full-time, permanent jobs but they are still homeless. These people are referred to as the “working poor” because they are working dead-end, minimum wage jobs and they only make enough money to barely survive. This means these people can never save enough money for damage deposits for apartments and utility hook-ups, let alone pay a high rent on a monthly basis.
Stay tuned next week when Diane discusses the three biggest pitfalls to becoming homeless and tips on how to avoid becoming homeless.
Diane is a full-time, freelance writer. She specializes in writing technical articles for the oil and gas industry, but also writes feature length magazine articles of all genres, including Calgary-based magazines. She is working towards a Bachelor of General Studies degree.