Ignoring housing and homelessness costs more than addressing the issue

Commentary by Rosaire L’Italien, Interim Leader of the NB NDP in The Daily Gleaner

Where is New Brunswick’s housing strategy?

New Brunswick is the second poorest province in Canada in terms of income. For a province full of hard-working people, and full of natural riches, that’s not acceptable. Too many New Brunswickers today are poor, excluded, and struggling. Too many New Brunswickers are leaving our province, and not enough new Canadians are making this great province their home.

For a number of years now New Brunswick has been said to be facing a housing crisis. Increases in rent, a shortage of rental housing, an excessive number of families spending more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter, and a growing number of homeless people are just some of the effects of Canada’s housing crisis. Almost half of all single mothers live in poverty in New Brunswick, and nearly one in five children in New Brunswick are growing up in poverty.

New Brunswick’s last housing strategy expired in 2015. In the intervening two years, New Brunswick has simply gone without a housing strategy. While there seems to be some vague talk about a “consultation process” there has yet to be any result in place, and going two years without a housing strategy is unacceptable.

Affordable housing is important because it addresses the root cause of many social problems big and small. Housing is much more than a physical place with rooms and furniture: it is essential to the sense of security and stability needed to prevent marginalization. Housing serves as an anchor to an individual’s community, a retreat and a refuge.

As a major determinant of physical and mental health, housing, in and of itself, gives rise to a number of benefits. These extend to education, social activities, income security, integration of immigrants, community development and the job market. By contrast, lack of housing makes it hard for vulnerable people (such as the elderly and people on fixed income and those with disabilities or experiencing homelessness) to manage chronic health conditions. It leads to reliance on emergency rooms for health care and emergency shelter, and contributes to poor health outcomes and reduced life expectancy.

What’s more is that ignoring housing and homelessness is more costly than addressing them. Homelessness is expensive because those affected are more likely than the average person to end up in hospitals and correctional facilities. The most recent figures show that homelessness costs the Canadian government approximately $7 billion a year, while the federal government was spending barely $119 million a year in 2016 to combat homelessness. Eradicating homelessness is actually a sensible investment for the government.

Prime Minister Trudeau promised to create a national housing strategy, and right now is working towards doing so. That means that this is precisely the time for the Gallant government to work with the feds to leverage resources.

The past withdrawal of support for housing and homelessness initiatives by Conservative and Liberal governments at all levels of government is unacceptable. Canadians need government that listens, and works together with all levels of government (be they federal, provincial and municipal) and civil society stakeholder groups to make changes that are necessary to support the worst off in our communities.

The NB NDP believes our province should be judged by the way we treat the most vulnerable.

That’s why we will implement the most aggressive poverty reduction strategy in New Brunswick history. We will protect New Brunswickers from predatory payday loan lenders and we will introduce a Social Assistance Bill of Rights. The NDP will stand up for social justice in the workplace by introducing pay equity and anti-replacement worker legislation. We will put a stop to the criminalization of mental illness by introducing a Mental Health Court. And we will integrate Housing First principles into a provincial affordable housing strategy.

We will do all this because it will unleash untapped potential in our economy, because it will offer a better life for New Brunswick families and, in particular, their children.

And we will do this because it’s the right thing to do.