The Root Cause(s) of Homelessness, COVID 19, Social Housing and Support Services

Since 2019, the need-felt demand for social housing in Canada has grown substantially, and more than 550 social and supportive homes have since been opened in Vancouver, and there were approximately 1,900 more under construction. Over the past three years, more than 650 temporary modular supportive homes have been created, providing immediate relief to hundreds of people living without a home. 

Individuals, communities, and organizations in Canada have joined their heads and hands to help end homelessness, realizing that the right to housing was one of the fundamental rights. While there is a growing recognition that ending homelessness in Canada is possible, the challenge, however, remains to provide those in need with safe descent and stable housing, with the target that no one should be homeless for more than ten days. This challenge has been further precipitated during Contagion COVID 19, for there is an attending additional risk of contracting infection, like that of OMICRON during homelessness.

Supportive housing is one such non-profit affordable home that provides a range of on-site supports to residents, such as life-skills training and connections to off-site services such as primary health care, mental health, or substance use.

I have worked in the social housing field for over ten years and have traveled to Asia and the Middle East and realized that social housing and homelessness are an epidemic on many levels. It does not matter if you are from India or Egypt, or even here in Canada; it is a process that one does not choose. There is no "one size fits for all." You cannot just throw money at the problem. This is a socio-economic problem that is somewhat generational in its roots. In order to begin to tackle these complicated issues, we have to address the source. The root of the problem, in my opinion, stems from years of trauma, abuse, and neglect. This is so powerful that it often takes people's lives dealing with these issues. Our communities have to invest in multiple levels of social programs like harm reduction and low-income housing.

John Stuart Mill's 'Harm Principle' states that the only actions that can be prevented are ones that create harm. In other words, a person can do whatever he wants as long as his actions do not harm others. If a person's actions only affect himself, then society, which includes the government, should not be able to stop a person from doing what he wants. This even includes actions that a person may do that would harm the person himself.

However, we cannot just stop there and think that Mill makes things seem so simple because he doesn't. If we were to stop our discussion of the harm principle, ' anyone can do whatever they want just so long as it doesn't affect anyone else,' problems would arise. One such problem may be what to do with people who want to end their own life. Interestingly, Mill would actually say it would not be okay for this to happen.

For this to make the most sense, we need to understand three important ideas that helped shape the harm principle. The first is that the harm principle comes from another principle called the principle of utility. The principle of utility states that people should only do those things that bring the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number of people. So, if a person is trying to decide between two things, he should choose the option that makes the most people happy.

The second idea is that Mill says there is a difference between harm and offense. Harm is something that would injure the rights of someone else or set back important interests that benefit others. An example of harm would be not paying taxes because cities rely on the money to take care of their citizens. An offense, according to Mill, is something which we would say 'hurt our feelings.' These are less serious and should not be prevented because what may hurt one person's feelings may not hurt another's, and so offenses are not universal.

The third idea to understand is that it is very rare for an action to only affect the individual himself. Mill argues that no person is truly isolated from others. Most actions affect other people in important ways (  John Stuart Mill's Harm Principle: Definition & Examples - Video & Lesson Transcript |

Physical and mental health needs to be addressed first foremost. Once a person has been physically/mentally diagnosed, he or she can begin the process of healing, which can take a lifetime.

Social Cost of homelessness and Economics of Homelessness

Those without affordable housing options often end up elsewhere, like homeless shelters. Many homeless may also suffer from other things than simply not having a place to live. They may need medical assistance and/or have mental issues that need attention.

A research project conducted for the Corporation of Supportive Housing (CSH) in 2004 detailed some of the daily costs of these alternatives. The study focused on nine major metropolitan areas with similar results.

In Chicago, for example, the daily cost of supporting affordable housing was $33.45. Every "alternative" was more expensive.

Shelter: $40.28/day

Jail: $91.78/day

Prison: $117.08/day

Mental Hospital $541.00/day

Hospital: $1,770.00/day

(The Economic Arguments for Supporting Affordable Housing | MHSA)                                     

Once stable housing has been achieved, a person can work on themselves through medical care and counseling. This involves several levels of support from healthcare workers and professionals. We cannot put up more barriers; this does not work but creates more unforeseen problems. Social housing programs are a step in the right direction where one has a safe place to live, food to eat, and medical/psychiatric supports to address his or her issues. Family and friends are often involved, which complicates the matter on a whole different level. But the work must begin with the individual and carry on from that point. We have to meet the person where they are currently at in their life.

Everyone deserves a safe place to call home. That is why our government has been making historical investments and working with all orders of government to end chronic homelessness in Canada—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau