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Poverty and Homelessness in Canada

Introduction

The quality of the life of a fellow human being should be considered to be of extreme importance by every human being. Even though this is a utopian hope, there is appreciable concern among many quarters of the society in bringing about a positive change in the lives of the underprivileged. There are many organizations, individuals and even governments who have actively woken up to this fact and focuses on crucial issues like alleviation of poverty, bringing about social and economic equality, bringing down the level of homelessness and providing more or less equal health care to all sections of the population. This paper focuses on two of these issues namely poverty and homelessness. In the course of the study the following issues will be reviewed namely the difference between poverty and homelessness, the level of the above two factors in the city of Ontario, the beginnings, or origins of poverty and homelessness, and possible solutions for the above. One more important factor namely the Holy Bible will be used as an inspiration that may help people of believe to be more active and contribute resources towards poverty alleviation and bringing down the number of homeless people in the world and the city of Ontario in particular. After all according to the holy book, “2443 God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them: “Give to him who begs from you, do not refuse him who would borrow from you”; “you received without pay, give without pay.” (Catechism). When God himself has spoken thus what prevents the true believers from responding to His command?

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The difference between poverty and homelessness

The term poverty and homelessness seem to have an underlying correlation in the sense that people seem to equate homelessness with poverty. In order to understand the differences between the two it is necessary to look into well accepted definitions and the different connotation in which the two are used. Poverty can be measured in two dimensions, one that explains the condition of living and the other through an income based definition. For example, the World Bank prefers to define poverty as an income level below two dollars a day. A more dramatic and even emotional definition of poverty based on social factors is also given here. “Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time. Poverty is losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and lack of freedom.” (Barber). In any case, many sociologists and economists agree that it is difficult to correctly define the term since a certain level of income which is adequate for a reasonably comfortable life in one country may be woefully inadequate in another. Connecting the two outlooks, it can be said that if a person or family does not have enough money to qualify for what has been said in the second definition, the poverty is present.

Being homeless does not mean that the person is poor. A rich man can live in a rented house and will still qualify to be called homeless. But that is true only if it is taken in the strict literary sense. Economists and sociologists now equate homelessness to the condition where the affected has no place to live (both owned or rented). The definition adopted by the United Nations is “a “homeless” person is not only someone without a domicile who lives on the street or in a shelter, but can equally be someone without access to shelter meeting the basic criteria considered essential for health and human and social development.” (Edgar, Meert, and Doherty). So for the purpose of this paper, the definition of the United Nations is taken as a true representation. The differences between the two terms can be clarified by what is given below. Poverty need not indicate that the person does not have a home. But if a person is homeless, that person or family may suffer poverty. A poor person can even be the owner of a home however small, but he may not have enough money for many of the other basic necessities like food, medicines, and clothing. A homeless person on the other hand may through begging or other means find enough money to live by. Another major difference is the reason for poverty and homelessness which can be quite different. This will be discussed in more detail in the section on Why poverty and homelessness is increasing.

Poverty and homelessness in Ontario

It is a surprising fact that both these issues figure prominently in government policies and the aims of many social service organizations even in a country like Canada. According to the book Poverty and Policy in Canada, the general population and the Government in particular have been considered to be the most humane in terms of public welfare of its citizens. It would seem that the this situation reflects what is said in the Bible about justice namely, Amos 5:24 “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (What does the Bible Say about the Poor?). The country’s public policies were considered to be much more visionary and equitable even when compared to the policies of its neighbor, the United States. “Yet Canada has one of the highest poverty rates for individuals and families among wealthy industrialized nations.” (Raphael, 5). There appears to be a paradox because the policies and other initiatives that were implemented in the best initiatives of the people have not had the desired effect. Statistics given below about the issue will substantiate the fact. The total number of people living under poverty (based on LICO or Low Income Cut Off) level was 14.4% of the population or nearly one and a half million people. The national figure stood slightly higher at 16.2%. Child poverty which is another area of concern was 17% for Ontario and 18% for the nation as a whole. (Poverty Statistics). The situation in 2007 is even worse. According to a report that appeared in the CBC News Online, it is estimated that nearly 30% of the population in the City of Ontario are now considered to be victims of poverty. “It also shows the poverty rate in Toronto is growing faster than in other parts of the country, where prospects are stabilizing or improving.” (Poverty Increasing Toronto, Report Says). The problem of homelessness is also a serious concern in the city. In this context, homelessness can be classified into permanent, cyclical and temporary. Even though the percentage is smaller when compared to poverty, the increase has been much more substantial. “Although the exact number of homeless people living in the city is unknown, approximately 32,000 different people slept in a Toronto homeless shelter in 2002.” (The Street Health Report). This works out to an average of fewer than 90 per day. The average count during a survey four years later showed that about 6,500 homeless people used the shelter on a given night.

Reasons for increase in poverty and homelessness

There are several distinct reasons why poverty and homelessness is on the rise in Toronto and Canada as a whole. Poverty can arise and grow simply because a person was born into a poor family. The book Poverty and Policy (mentioned earlier) says that past experience of poverty alone is not a reason for increase in poverty. “Debilitating illness, disability, break-up of marriage or relationship, birth of children or loss of employment can place one in poverty.” (Raphael, 117). The increase in rate of poverty in Canada can be attributed mainly to the illness and break-up of marriages happening today. Both these factors (especially lifestyle diseases) are on the increase today. Loss of jobs or low paid jobs also increase poverty rates among the population. In the case of Canada, even though employment levels were quite high, the low paying jobs did not increase in compensation as much other jobs. Without much increase in pay being counter balanced by rising expenditure and inflation poverty rates rose in the country. “The federal government is projecting a nearly stagnant economy next year, an outlook which could mean growing unemployment and declining wages for Canadians as the country struggles its way through a recession.” (Owram). Such a situation will definitely see a rise in poverty levels also.

With regard to homelessness, the rising levels of poverty is the primary reason for its rising levels. The boom in property and rentals in the country has also made many poor people being unable to buy or even rent a house..

Origins of poverty and homelessness

There can be no definitive answer as to when poverty as a phenomenon appeared among the human race. During the time of the stone ages, the concept of a private property or income would not have existed. Everything would be shared or would be acquired though fighting and combat. The concept of savings did not exist during that time. It was only after these concepts began to be accepted among the human race that effects of poverty began to be felt. So a tribe or a subgroup (family) within a tribe would fight to save all the assets it owned. It would also forcefully try and acquire the assets of others to become stronger. Hence, “the losing tribe being deprived of land and properties, they would have been the poorest of the poor in the merged community.” (Veneracion). This phenomenon continued on to the modern society in a more civilized and refined form. What one person has cannot be owned by another. There are several definitive reasons why a rich person can become poor apart from economic or health related causes. One reason is the inability of poor people to acquire the skills needed for making wealth. Another reason would be people’s attitude towards spending uncontrollably. A third reason is more social in nature and includes factors like inequality, dishonesty, racialism, exploitation etc. “The third category explains poverty in terms of illness, bad luck, or misfortunes over which people have no control (i.e., fatalistic factors).” (Shek). The same reasons can be attributable to the causes and rise of homelessness. Property is an asset that can be saved and developed. The same factors that causes poverty is also applicable here. For example, an exploitative government can cause a person to loose his property. High debts due to spending or illness can also cause the same situation.

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Solutions

Solutions that will completely eradicate poverty and homelessness will remain a pipe dream and it will be a wasteful effort to make such an attempt. But certain measures can be taken by the government to reduce the rising trend of poverty. The government machinery should effectively take steps for the creation of new jobs. The government can also take up measures to create more jobs in government departments. It is the low wage category that is mostly affected by poverty and the lower limits of pay to such unskilled and semi-skilled jobs should be raised. The immigrant population in many countries are subject to legal and racial injustices causing high rates of poverty among such people. They should be treated as near equals with the local population. Cost of education is a factor why many poor people cannot afford a sort of education that will lift them out of poverty. Controlling and subsidizing education costs will be effective in this regard. Finally restructuring of the tax system that will focus more on the rich rather than middle and lower income groups will also help. (Stricker, 240). The above steps in reducing poverty will also have a beneficial effect on homelessness also. One additional step is to bring in the concept of rent insurance. (Wright, 140). Insured persons under this scheme can have their rents paid by the insurance company for a stipulated period until they can pay the rent on their own. This will prevent eviction to a large extent.

The Bible and the helpless

The Bible is covered with God’s insight on how to help other people in need and it will not be possible to discuss even a small percentage of it. But the few instances that are given below is to show the power of the book for those who are willing to follow the commands mentioned in it. The most apt command from the bible would be “‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” (Poverty –What does the Bible Say about the Poor?). If everyone followed this view, eradication of poverty and homelessness would have even become a reality. The sentence given here namely, “if one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave.” (Leviticus 25:23-38). Policy makers should take the sentence from the bible about the virtues of helping the poor where it quotes “Is it not sharing your food with the hungry, and sheltering the homeless poor; if you see someone lacking clothes, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own kin?” (Isaiah).

Personal views

There is a book called Utopia by Thomas More that describes a perfect community where none of the negative things we see today exist. Everyone is happy and well treated in that community. I would like the world to be a Utopia, but am practical enough to know that it is not possible. As an individual there are a few things that I can practice so that I will not be a contributor to increasing poverty and homelessness. If only most people had this attitude, many of the problems in the world would not have come to such an extent. This is the least a person can do to help in this regard. But I personally feel that this is not enough. Each person should contribute within his capacity to help reduce these two social evils since there is strength in numbers. The contribution can be a financial one or it can be an act of service or help. There are steps which will be more helpful and altruistic in nature. I can join a social service organization and contribute my time and effort in helping that organization to achieve its noble aims. There is still more that I can do. I can start an organization on my own that will focus on certain areas that I feel strongly about, like child poverty. Towards the other end of the spectrum, I can join politics and slowly build up a reputation as an honest, sincere, and visionary politician. Each of these actions needs progressive levels of effort and commitment which is beyond my capacity at present. I aim to start at the bottom of the ladder and make myself strong and capable enough to do the maximum that is within my capacity and ability. All this will be accompanied by a positive and never say die attitude which is essential to be successful any human endeavor that requires a lot of patience and commitment.

Works Cited

  1. Barber, Catherine. Notes on Poverty and Inequality. Oxfam International. 2008.
  2. Edgar, Bill., Meert, Henk., and Doherty, Joe. Third Review of Statistics on Homelessness in Europe: Developing an Operational Definition of Homelessness. European Observatory on Homelessness. 2004.
  3. Isaiah – Chapter 58. Catholic Online. 2008. Web.
  4. Owram, Kristine. Unemployment to Rise in 2009, Flaherty Predicts. Thestar.com. Web.
  5. Poverty Increasing Toronto, Report Says. CBCNEWS.ca.2007.
  6. Poverty Statistics: What’s Available and Where to Find it? 2008.
  7. Raphael, Dennis. Poverty and Policy in Canada. Canadian Scholars’ Press. 2007. Web.
  8. Shek, Daniel T. L. Chinese Adolescent Explanations of Poverty: The Perceived Causes of Poverty Scale. Health Care Industry. BNET. 2002.
  9. Stricker Frank. Why America Lost the War on Poverty-And How to Win it? Move Towards a more Progressive Tax System. UNC Press. 2007. Web.
  10. The Street Health Report. 2007.
  11. Veneracion, Connie. Understanding the Origin of Poverty. Sassy lawyer. 2008.
  12. What does the Bible Say about the Poor? World Vision eNews. 2008.
  13. Wright, James. D. Address Unknown: Prevention Rent Insurance. Aldine Transaction. 1989. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, October 25). Poverty and Homelessness in Canada. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/poverty-and-homelessness-in-canada/

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