Research Matters Blog
Last year we came across an infographic about the cost to end homelessness in the United States based on a New York Times report from 2012. We wondered whether we could do something similar for Canada. We couldn’t because we didn’t have the numbers until this week when the State of Homelessness in Canada: 2014 was published. Based on work from real estate scholar Jane Londerville and economist Marion Steele, and published by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub in conjunction with the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness this report costs out a solid path towards ending homelessness at $3.752 billion in 2015/2016 and about $44 billion over ten years.
This seems like a lot but it’s not actually that much. Mark Johnston from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “estimated that homelessness could be effectively eradicated in the United States at an annual cost of about $20 billion”. Our annual cost of around $4 billion seems small in comparison. After all, Disney paid that amount to buy Lucasfilm back in 2012 and they got Star Wars in the deal!
Our plan works out to about $106/Canadian annually, $2.04 cents weekly, just 88 cents a week more than current spending. For that small amount we can contribute to a realistic solution to homelessness and the affordable housing crisis.
We're asking the federal government to use their anticipated surplus and otherwise dedicate tax dollars towards the recommendations in our report. Tax dollars come out of your pocket though. So what does that really look like at a personal, practical level?
Many working people and working families eat out on a regular basis. Even a $10 lunch once per week will cost $520/year. A Canadian Eh! Large pizza from Pizza Pizza in Westminster B.C. is about $20 including tax and delivery. Do that once a month and it will cost you $240 a year. A Big Mac meal at most McDonald's would cost $8. Buy two a month and it will run you $192/year.
What about some other seemingly trivial expenses? A pack of gum per week adds up to about $70/year. Purchasing two top Canadian magazines will cost about $375/year: buying The Walrus at the newsstand would cost $69.50/year whereas weekly magazine Macleans would cost $305.80. Subscriptions would still ring in at $84/year. Even grabbing that quick snack or pop at the vending machines adds up. Chips and a drink would add up to $208 if you bought them every week. I’m a complete diet coke addict but I’d be willing to give up a pop (or even two) every week if it meant ending homelessness.
Social media can be another big money suck. Are you or your kids addicted to Candy Crush or interested in purchasing another app for your iPhone or iPad? Even at $2/app that’s $104 a year. Add in music from iTunes, a Netflix subscription and a few Facebook gifts and it quickly adds up.
What about your double-double fix? Tim Hortons, Canada’s favourite coffee purveyor, serves 2 billion cups of coffee per year. Your daily coffee fix will run you over $500, even if you skip the weekends.
Would you give up a coffee or two if it meant contributing towards ending homelessness?
Even caring for our pets costs us some big bucks. The average annual cost of dog ownership in Canada is $1,071, a cat is $835, a hamster $225 and a rabbit $450.
Annual purchases can also get expensive. Halloween costumes are commonly in the $50-100+ range, especially if you want a trendy one with all of the accessories. Sure to be the rage tonight, dressing your young princess as Elsa from Frozen would cost $62.97 for the costume, wig, tiara, wand and shoes at Party City.
According to Statistics Canada the average Canadian household spends $7,739 on food annually. This includes $5,572 in stores and $2,167 at restaurants. This works out to $3,095.60/person – $2,228.80/person in stores and $866.80/person in restaurants.
Other Canadian expenditures (all indicated per person) include $1,384.40 for clothing, $1,493.20 for recreation, $80.80 on games of chance and $873.20 for household furnishings and equipment.
For many households, one of their biggest expenses is probably their car. The Canadian Automobile Association calculates the cost of driving different types of cars (compact, mid-size and cross-over) for different lengths of distance. Using the average of the three cars driven 18,000 kms annually, the average Canadian driver spend $10469.92/year. This works out to $872.49/month and $201.34/week. (At 24,000km – average annual cost is $11,704.08, monthly cost is $975.34 and weekly cost is $225.08.)
Money to end homelessness is just a drop in the bucket.
Share these images if you agree:
Today, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness have once again teamed up to deliver a national report card on homelessness – State of Homelessness in Canada: 2014. In this ground-breaking report we look at updated statistics on homelessness and housing, as well as provide a detailed cost estimate on reducing the state of the crisis. It’s backed up by solid research Housing Policy Targeting Homelessness from real estate scholar Jane Londerville and economist Marion Steele.
The infographic is based on research in the report and highlights just how severe the housing and homelessness crisis is in this country. It includes new numbers that increase last year’s estimate of the number of people homeless by 5,000 a day or 35,000 a year. This means that every day about 35,000 people experience homelessness and over 235,000 people experience it annually. It also increased the estimate of number of people who experience chronic and episodic homelessness to 13,000 to 33,000 annually.
This report also delves into the crisis in housing in Canada. As Cushing Dolbeare said in 1996, “Homelessness may not be only a housing problem, but it is always a housing problem; housing is necessary, although sometimes not sufficient, to solve the problem of homelessness.”
As a result this report draws the links between housing and homelessness and points out that we will likely never solve the homelessness crisis if we don’t address the issue of the lack of affordable housing. Nearly 1 in 5 households experience extreme housing affordability problems. In the past 20 years nearly 100,000 housing units have not been built because of the cancellation of funding programs for affordable housing.
The report also highlights the discrepancy between homeowners and renters – both in terms of government expenditure but also in terms of wealth and housing affordability. At a tax expenditure level the government contributes $8.6 billion annually to homeowners through imputed rent and capital gains exemptions, compared to just $2.1 billion for renters. Nearly half of renters pay more than 30% of their income on housing compared to less than 1 in 5 homeowners. The median family income for homeowners is $74, 540. Not only do renter families earn significantly less - $37,100 – but this number has actually decreased since 1991 (after being adjusted for inflation).
It’s time for change. Over the past 25 years – and particularly following the withdrawal of the federal government from most housing development in 1993 – Canada’s population has increased by almost 30% and our national investment in housing has decreased by over 46%. Per capita spending on low-income housing has dropped from $115 to $60.
The report suggests several areas of change including a new federal/provincial/territorial affordable housing framework agreement, investments to target chronically and episodically homeless people, a new affordable housing tax credit and a housing benefit program, as well as investments in Aboriginal housing both on and off reserve.
All of these recommendations have been costed out. In this report we propose a different way of doing things including a housing investment strategy that in the long run would cost the economy much less than the current costs of homelessness. The proposed investments represent an increase in spending from the projected commitments of $2.019 billion to $3.752 billion in 2015/16 with a total investment of about $44 billion over ten years.
For just an additional 88 cents a week ($2.04 total), we can contribute to a realistic solution to homelessness and the affordable housing crisis. This is a small investment to make in the face of the hardships faced by people experiencing homelessness. On Friday we’ll explore what you might be able to do to free up this amount of money every week.
Early Intervention/Secondary prevention is intended to identify and address a problem or condition at an early stage. In thinking about homelessness, this typically means strategies that target people who are clearly at risk of, or who have recently become homeless. This includes systems prevention, meaning working with mainstream institutions so we can stop the flow of individuals from mental health care, child protection and corrections into homelessness.
Early intervention is a means of “preventing escalation”. We want to stop someone from becoming so entrenched in homelessness that it becomes almost impossible for them to leave and is targeted at those in the early stages of homelessness.
Early intervention strategies are designed to work quickly to support individuals and families to either retain their housing, or if that is not possible, to use rapid rehousing strategies to ensure people move into safe and appropriate accommodation with the supports that they need. Elements of effective early intervention include: coordinated assessment, case management, and shelter diversion strategies such as host homes. For youth who have become homeless family reconnection – a client-driven case-management approach to help resolve conflicts between young people who leave home and their caregivers – is important. Key supports can include family mediation, rent banks, landlord-tenant mediation.
Technology, with all its rapid growth and innovation, has long been considered an indicator of status. Perhaps this is why some people think of cell phones as luxury items, despite the fact that the vast majority of Canadians have them. (83% of households had at least one active cell phone in 2013, according to the last Statistics Canada survey.)
As you probably know from carrying around your own iPhone, Blackberry or Android device, cell phones have become a necessity for many. With texting, emailing and mobile-exclusive phone use rising, cell phones are often the only devices with which people can adequately manage their communications. We use our phones to stay in touch with friends and family, find and apply to jobs, feel safe and more.
This is also true for people experiencing homelessness. They tend to face more barriers—stigma and financial difficulties, just to name a few—to technology, but many manage to overcome them.
Most people experiencing homelessness have cell phones
Research shows that many homeless people have cell phones. In Karin M. Eyrich-Garg’s study of homeless people in Philadelphia, 44% of the adult participants already had their own cell phones. (Amongst those participants, 80% owned, 18% borrowed long-term, and 2% rented.)
In another study, 70.7% of homeless patients visiting emergency departments had cell phones, compared to 85.9% of people who were stably housed.
Similarly, in Melody Kim, Melissa Cameron and Alex Fung’s study in San Diego, 8 out of 11 participants had cell phones and the other 2 were seeking replacements.
Evidently, people with cell phones are a significant portion of the overall homeless population and tend to be more the norm than the exception.
They can be more affordable than you think
As noted in our Homelessness 101 section, most people experiencing homeless do so for less than a month. During such short periods of homelessness, it is entirely possible for people to keep their phones in service.
Yet with some of us buying brand new smartphones and paying more than $100 in talk and data services, one might wonder how a cell phone bill gets paid when money is tight. The answer is that monthly costs depend on the kind of cell phone, the carrier and the kind of service.
A report by Wall Communications tracked four levels of monthly talk, data and text packages. They found that the average cell phone bill is between $34 and $80 a month. In Eyrich-Garg’s study, about half the participants had a monthly plan, with various costs and strategies for paying them.
In Canada, we have some companies that provide cheaper monthly plans, many of which have a mix of talk minutes and text messages. Here’s a few of them, with some of their low- to mid-range plan price ranges: Wind ($25-$35), Koodo ($35-$40), MobilCity ($25-$35), PC Mobile ($29-$39), Virgin Mobile Canada ($35-$40) and Public ($19-$25).
Pay-as-you go cell phones are a much more affordable option that allows users to pay in advance and only for what they use. In the San Diego study, this was the most popular kind of cell phone service that homeless people used.
When it comes to phones themselves, people experiencing homelessness don’t always have phones from when they were stably housed. Some use models from friends or family, while others find affordable devices at pawn shops, secondhand stores and even some dollar stores. Using prepaid minute cards, having a cell phone can cost less than $20 a month.
Some shelters and community programs, like Lifeline in California, even give phones away for free. In Vancouver, the P.H.S. Community Services Society collected used cell phones without SIM cards for seniors living in poverty, so they could still dial 911 in an emergency.
Why do homeless people need cell phones?
As I mentioned above, people experiencing homelessness need cell phones for many of the same reasons that people who are stably housed do. In an article for Mobledia, Kat Aschayara wrote about how important one homeless man’s Blackberry is to him:
“His phone, then, functions as an important conduit. On the surface, it’s his most important, practical tool. He can call places for work with it. He can call up shelters and other social services to see what’s available. He calls public transportation to find out which bus lines are running and check out schedules. E-mail and text is especially important. He can reach out to friends to see if he can crash with them for a night or two, especially if the weather is rough.”
One participant in Kim, Cameron and Feng’s study said: “The amount of help they can be is substantial. [Cellphones are] a way to communicate with others to learn where resources are, when opportunities present themselves.”
Safety is also a factor. Another participant in the same study pointed out that without a landline and with fewer and fewer payphones available, he simply had to get his own phone.
Finally, simply being connected to other people is important not only for sharing resources and employment opportunities, but also for health and well being. As Euryich-Garg’s study found, social connectedness was one of the primary reasons that homeless individuals used computers. She wrote: “Mobile phones offer a connection to others without the physical constraints of landlines and may make communication and, therefore, access to one’s social support network more feasible for homeless individuals. This, in turn, could lead toward better health outcomes.”
Stephen Hwang et al. came to similar conclusions in their study of multidimensional social support and the health of homeless individuals, writing: “…perceived access to specific types of social support derived from social networks of friends, family, and/or neighbors can have a protective influence on multiple health outcomes among homeless individuals.”
Even social connections with strangers have value. As Margaret Rock wrote in an article on 2machines:
“Homeless bloggers, for instance, are a godsend for those who find themselves in similar circumstances. Those on the brink are increasingly reaching out on Twitter, using homelessness-related hashtags or topics. One name that comes up often is Mark Horvath, who goes by the Twitter handle, @hardlynormal. His dedication to providing a forum for homeless to share resources, advice and tips gives others a much-needed path to navigate their new, scary world.”
For many people experiencing homelessness, cell phones aren’t a luxury. They’re a necessity.
This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at email@example.com and we will provide a research-based answer.
Photo by Faye Bayko.
The Peak Group of Companies is one of Canada’s fastest-growing home improvement products and installation companies. We are also a proud and long-standing partner of Home Depot Canada. Our partnership extends to the work of the Foundation, which last year launched its three-year $10-million dollar commitment to support an end to youth homelessness.
Over the last few months, we’ve asked ourselves: “How can we do more?” Ultimately we’ve landed on an issue that we believe requires greater corporate leadership: improving the employability of youth, housed through the foundation, who have previously faced very challenging circumstances.
As a first step in our commitment, we sought to build a partnership with a community agency that provides support to youth who face barriers to employment.
Next, we drafted a job description and began looking for our pilot partner. Building on the advice in Raising the Roof’s Employer Toolkit, we looked for a partner who could support both our company and a youth to be successful in this joint endeavor. We asked our potential partners the following:
- Who are the youth that you serve? What types of circumstances do they face?
- How do you support youth to be successful?
- How do you assess the job readiness of youth?
- How do you support youth and their employers at the outset of the program?
- Are there procedures in place to anticipate or respond to difficulties a youth may have during employment?
- What are your expectations of us?
In the end, we partnered with 360 Kids, an organization based in Markham, Ontario. We were impressed by their holistic approach to youth unemployment and the support they offered to employers. We’re pleased to say that through our partnership we’ve hired a fantastic new employee who is a welcome and valuable addition to our team.
As employers, we ask other employers to join us in focusing on underemployed youth for two reasons:
- In a challenging job market, youth face a number of barriers to employment. And not all youth have equal access to employment. Youth without housing can face unemployment due to additional barriers such discrimination, housing instability, limited work experience, transportation barriers, or even a lack of confidence.
- It’s a smart business decision. We’re not solving a social problem; we’re accessing an untapped resource. By engaging underemployed youth we’re able to hire from a pool of dedicated, enthusiastic employees with a range of experiences, skills and knowledge.
Although we hope to further our commitment to this issue, we don’t expect to address the needs of underemployed youth alone. Other employers have committed to this issue, but collectively, we’re still not doing enough. Too many youth face discrimination and a lack of access to meaningful job opportunities. Our advice to other employers, both large and small, is simple. First, commit to this issue with an open mind. Second, find a strong community partner with a proven track record. The rest will follow.
Content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives License
The analysis and interpretations contained in the blog posts are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.