Tuesday, January 31, 2012


"Osbourne said, homelessness in St. John's is rampant,
but largely unseen by the public because people are 
couch surfing. "In defense of our government, 
we have one of the best poverty reduction strategies
in the country"  but he said there isn't enough affordable
housing and the prices place low-income earners in the
position of choosing food or a roof over their head."

The Telegram
Jan 31, 2012

Are we becoming a city/province of socioeconomic extremes?  Housing  influences individual well-being and enables participation in the social and economic life of the community. The darker side of the oil   boom is that more and more people are finding it harder to buy groceries, pay utilities and afford escalating rents. 

Even with the recent increases in minimum wages, low-income earners are being left behind. Last weeks reports that Newfoundland and Labrador is leading the country when it comes to inflation underscores the challenges some people face every day purchasing staples.

I have always liked Tom Osborne. Besides being the most senior Member of the House of Assembly, he has been a very caring district MHA who is an untiring advocate for those in need, as was his mother, who represented the district of St. John's West for 12 years. His honest comments in todays's The Telegram, about the needs of the homeless in our city reflect his sincerity in tackling this hidden blight.

I first encountered homelessness when I worked on Parliament Hill. There were always a few people looking for change along the heating grates at the bus stops, and along the Sparks Street Mall. It was a new phenomena for me. 

I came to have a healthy respect for many of the homeless people whom I met.  Most of them suffered from some sort of mental disease like depression or schizophrenia. Many were educated and had fallen through the cracks. One man had been a deputy-minister at one time. He had the greatest stories and a unique insight. Some times I would think, there but for the grace of god goes I.

When we hear about homelessness in this province, we do not think of mean, women, children sleeping near heating grates, under trees in the park or on park benches. There are few images of the vagabonds found in the bigger cities. 

As Tom Osborne , MHA for St.John's South says, homelessness does exist here and it is rampant. It is just not as visible as it is in other cities. What we do not see is the overcrowding in apartments, people sleeping on floors and couches because they can not afford the escalating rents and do not possess the work skills to escape the poverty trap.The face of homelessness crosses genders and ages. There are the mentally ill, seniors, young adults and students.

I would go a step further than Tom and say that Newfoundland and Labrador's Poverty Reduction Strategy is the best in the country. It leads the country in putting the tools in place to assist in meeting the goals of reduced justice involvement, healthy outcomes, ending  homelessness and ensure housing stability. 

A Social Housing Plan for Newfoundland and Labrador — Secure Foundations, released by the provincial government in August 2009, outlines a long-term vision for social housing. Budget 2011 Standing Strong: For Prosperity. For Our Future. For Newfoundland and Labrador also allocated $25.9 million for social housing infrastructure, including $10.4 million for maintenance and $12 million for renovations and improvements

 That said, there is much work to be done in creating infrastructure - as a society we have invested great resources in identifying issues, it is now time for our provincial government to accept the recommendations of many of these studies and move the agenda forward to meet the changing demographics, labour market and housing challenges.

Putting financial resources towards actions that prevent and end homelessness makes a great deal of sense to me. The cost of inaction is higher than the cost of providing housing and supports.

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