2.3: Homelessness and Poverty in the First World
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Homelessness is a complex social problem, and the characteristics of homelessness vary geographically (Gregory, Johnston, Pratt, Watts, & Whatmore, 2009). Homelessness has increased dramatically in the Global North since the 1970s especially among the most vulnerable populations (Takahashi, 1996).
Homelessness, or the threat of homelessness, is not just people living or sleeping on the street. Sometimes homelessness is not visible, but it still exists where people are living in abandoned buildings, living in tenements, using emergency shelters, using family or friends as places to stay or even “couch surfing.” The line between being housed and being homeless is often not clear, as people can find themselves in a cycle of moving between temporary “homes” (e.g., staying with family or friends) and shelters for the homeless. As well, many people live in housing that does not meet health and safety standards (e.g., the presence of mould; inadequate electrical or heating systems). All of these living situations put people at risk of poor physical, mental and emotional health.
Homelessness is usually publicly stigmatized, and government policies that affect homeless people and their rights and access to public space are often harsh (Mitchell, 2003).
Can you imagine that these scenes or situations take place in Canada and specifically in BC?
The Causes of Homelessness
Homelessness is an outcome of the complex interplay of structural factors, systemic failures and individual circumstances (Gaetz, Donaldson, Richter, & Gulliver, 2013):
- Structural factors are where the cost of living has increased but without an adequate increase in income, particularly for those in the lower income brackets or those on social assistance.
- Systemic failures occur when people fall between the cracks of a country’s systems of care. For example, when people are discharged from hospitals or correctional facilities into emergency shelters or when youth transition out of the child welfare system.
- Personal circumstances may come into play when individuals and families experience catastrophic events such as job loss, illness or a house fire. Traumatic events or health problems can add to the risk of becoming homeless when housing or income is in short supply.
- Family violence and conflict, particularly for women, children and youth, may push individuals to flee their homes in order to protect themselves.