Tell your city council that you care about the homeless.

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I saw this tweet today while watching my city council meeting being live-tweeted by various reporters:

Coun. @dakilgour says lame duck council or not, he won't talk like a "dead duck"... says he gets more emails on animals than on homeless

There’s something horribly sad about it. I have no doubt it is true. There is a very active facebook group ranting about problems with the local animal shelter. I have no clue whether any of their accusations are true or not, and that isn’t my point right now.

My point is that more people should be contacting council about the homeless. We should be reminding the city council regularly that we expect them to take action to help the homeless.

I think probably people don’t bother because they don’t know what the city could do to help homeless people. I remember talking to a city councilor some years back who said that affordable housing is basically the province’s concern and not the city’s concern. In the years since then I’ve learned that is not entirely true. There is plenty that the city could do.

The city could encourage the (municipal) staff of Ontario Works to prioritize meeting people’s needs over protecting their budget for discretionary funds. People on Ontario Works do not receive nearly enough money to pay for food and housing. Insufficient income to pay for good housing often leads to having to move, or to live in substandard housing. There used to be a fund called the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) which let people on social assistance access extra money for moving costs, to replace furniture and pay for other necessities that prevent them from ending up homeless. The fund was ended in 2012 and a new fund, the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI) was put in place. Under the new program the province gives cities less money than they used to give under CSUMB, and they allow the cities to set the criteria for who gets the money. Some cities top up the amount of money given to them to ensure they meet people’s needs. Others just tighten the criteria by which they give out the money, so fewer people receive less money. City councilors across the province need to hear from their constituents that it is okay – more than okay, necessary – for the city to put the extra money in to meet people’s needs.

City councilors need to be reminded that stigmatizing the poor and homeless is not a solution. Anti-panhandling measures need to be shot down quickly. (Like the posters put up in Sudbury back in 2012 were.) Cities need to be told that spikes, dividers in benches and other means of trying to prevent people from sitting or lying down are not the solution to the presence of homeless people.

Cities need to be encouraged to take the need for affordable housing into consideration when they look at zoning laws.

In Sudbury, the city could commit to running an emergency shelter independent of the Salvation Army. Last year the city ran a trial program with the Sally Ann, and it was successful enough they are talking about continuing the program. The problem is, there are too many problems with the Sally Ann. The location they used last year is not wheelchair accessible. Many homeless people have already been turned down from the Sally Ann before and are unwilling to try again. Some object to the religious aspect. In order to really help the homeless they need to listen to the homeless and run an independent emergency shelter.

There are probably a million other things cities can do. I’m not an expert. I don’t know what all the solutions to poverty and homelessness are. I do know that the idea that cities can’t do anything is bogus, but that cities won’t do nearly enough unless they are continually reminded that constituents want them to take action.

Even if you don’t know anything about the situation of the homeless in your city, send your city councilor an email, right now, asking what they are doing to help and telling them that those without homes still have value. Tell them the homeless matter.

If you live in Sudbury, your city councilors are listed here: http://www.greatersudbury.ca/inside-city-hall/city-council/ If you live elsewhere, I’m sure google can help you find their names and addresses. Do it now!

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