There is a massive and unprecedented scale of homelessness in advanced industrialized countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, among others. In the Canadian context, homelessness is a mounting risk for many immigrant families who are increasingly experiencing severe challenges finding affordable, adequate, and sustainable housing (Preston et al., 2009). The present paper aims to delineate the causes and effects of homelessness in Vancouver, Canada.
Available statistics demonstrate that between 150,000 and 300,000 people are homeless in Canada, making various government agencies to commit from $3-$6 billion to supporting the homeless in a country of over 34 million people (Graham & Schiff, 2010).
A recent survey found that there are in excess of 2,660 homeless people in Metro Vancouver and over 1,300 in the city of Vancouver (Krueger, 2009). Arguably, such figures of the homeless are definitely on the high side considering the fact that Canada is an advanced country grounded on a solid economy.
There exists a multiplicity of structural and methodical issues that have increased the risk of homelessness in Vancouver, Canada. These issues can best be described as the causative agents of homelessness in Vancouver.
One major issue that continues to throw people into the streets is rise in unemployment rates in the city, introducing people in shaky employment contracts to sustained threats to income (Graham & Schiff, 2010; Krueger, 2009). The second cause, which is characteristic of the city of Vancouver, is the increase in the number of poor people.
Available statistics demonstrate that socio-economic inequality is widening in Vancouver, with the rich getting increasingly richer and the poor getting poorer (Pohl, 2001). Indeed, extant literature demonstrates that there are now more poor people in the city of Vancouver than there has ever been at any moment ever since the Great Depression. Interestingly, therefore, high incidences of unemployment and poverty push people into the streets (Reid et al., 2005).
Moving on, the third cause of homelessness in Vancouver revolves around the issue of low assistance levels for people with disabilities and seniors (Graham & Schiff, 2010). This category of people have limited opportunities for productivity due to their mental and physical states, but the local and state agencies are doing little to ensure these people do not get into the streets.
Another cause of homelessness in Vancouver, which is diametrically related to low assistance levels, is the lack of social housing and rent supports for the poor, the physically challenged, and senior citizens (Shier et al., 2010). Again, it should be noted that social housing and rent supports should be the priority of local and state agencies.
The fifth major cause of homelessness in Vancouver revolves around the issue of decreasing number of low-income housing units (Shier et al., 2010; Pohl, 2001). It is generally felt that the 2008 economic recession which affected major economies worldwide introduced a trend in Canada that saw the professional middle class directly competing with the poor for existing low-income housing units.
Consequently, the low-end rental houses underwent an upscale in both restoration/rehabilitation and rent charged, resulting in massive homelessness as the poor and the vulnerable were unable to meet their rent responsibilities (Graham & Schiff, 2010).
Lastly, the de-institutionalization of Canada’s mentally ill population coupled with the existence of too many precarious jobs within Metro Vancouver continue to provide fuel to power the problem of homelessness, not only in Vancouver but also across other major cities in Canada.
While the de-institutionalization of Canada’s mentally ill population never achieved the objective of redirecting the mentally ill into a network of community-level support structures for social and economic endowment, thereby throwing them into the streets due to social and economic hardships (Pohl, 2001), too many precarious jobs occasioned job insecurity, extremely low wages, and high risks of ill health among the people (Graham & Schiff, 2010).
All these factors have combined to lead to increased homelessness not only in Vancouver but the whole of Canada.
The cause-effect dynamics presupposes that every cause must have a subsequent effect or a multiplicity of subsequent effects. Consequently, it can be argued that the discussed causes to the problem of homelessness in Vancouver ignite subsequent consequences or effects.
Long-term homelessness as is the case with poor people and immigrants is known to lead to lack of belonging and low levels of self-esteem (Graham & Schiff, 2010), Shelter is considered one of the basic necessities of life and lack of it is bound to impinge on various facets of the individual, such as the capacity to establish long-term social relationships, ability to belong to particular social groups, and ability to achieve high self-esteem.
A secondary effect of people with low self esteem is that they do not perform well in their education and employment. Arguably, therefore, the underlying effects of homelessness in this context include: Lack of belonging; low level of self esteem; low performance in education, and low performance in employment (Graham & Schiff, 2010; Preston et al, 2009; Reid et al., 2005).
Another bunch of effects of homelessness as suggested in the literature include poverty, overuse of scarce resources and services, and poor health outcomes (Eberle et al., 2001). Research demonstrates that the homeless are more likely to use more services provided by government agencies than the general population. Additionally, the homeless are more likely to remain in the cycle of poverty due to lack of employment opportunities, alcoholism and drug abuse, as well as low self-worth (Reid et al., 2005).
In terms of health-related outcomes, available literature demonstrates that “…homeless people are at much higher risk for infectious disease, premature death, acute illness, and chronic health problems than the general population” (Eberle et al, 2001, p. 6). It is also argued that homelessness not only enhances the likelihood of suicide and mental health problems, but reduces the life expectancy of the affected by an estimated 20 years (Graham & Schiff, 2010; Reid et al., 2005).
Lastly, to date it is unclear whether the problem of homelessness causes substance or alcohol addiction (Eberle et al., 2001), or whether homelessness is the effect of substance or alcohol addiction (Reid et al., 2005).
What is known for now is that people who abuse drugs and alcohol are more likely to end up in the streets than the general population, and that the homeless are more likely than the general population to abuse drugs and alcohol as a coping strategy or to escape from the harsh reality of being homeless (Graham & Schiff, 2010). It is also clear that drugs and alcohol abuse due to homelessness leads to poor health outcomes, early death, and suicide ideation (Preston et al., 2009).
Whether in Vancouver, Montreal, New York, or London, available literature demonstrates that many of the cause-effect relationships of homelessness remain the same (Krueger, 2009). The immediate task, therefore, is for relevant agencies to avail a livelihood for the homeless in an attempt to get them off the streets.
Eberle, M., Kraus, D., Serge, L., & Hulchanski, D. (2001). The relationship between homelessness and the health, social services and criminal justice systems: A review of the literature. Retrieved from http://www.housing.gov.bc.ca/pub/Vol1.pdf
Graham, J.R., & Schiff, J.W. (2010). Introduction to the special issue: Homelessness in Canada. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 37(4), 9-11.
Krueger, A. (2009). Facts about homelessness in Vancouver. Retrieved from http://shk22.wordpress.com/2009/05/30/vancouver-real-estate-rusting-home-sleeps-four/
Pohl, R. (2001). Homelessness in Canada. Street Level Consulting and Counseling. Retrieved from http://www.streetlevelconsulting.ca/homepage/homelessnessInCanada_Part1.htm
Preston, V., Murdie, R., Wedlock, J., Agrawal, S., Anucha, U., D’Addario, S…Murnaghan, A.M. (2009). Immigrants and homelessness – At risk in Canada’s outer suburbs. Canadian Geographer, 53(3), 2887-304.
Reid, S., Berman, H., & Forchuk, C. (2005). Living on the streets in Canada: A Feminist narrative study of girls and young women. Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing, 28(4), 237-256.
Shier, M.L., Jones, M.E., & Graham, J.R. (2010). Perspectives of employed people experiencing homelessness of self and being homeless: Challenging socially constructed perceptions and stereotypes. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 37(4), 13-37.