Since 1876, when the Indian Act first forced First Nations people to live on reserves, the federal government has been responsible for providing First Nations housing. And it has done a bad job.

That’s why First Nations leaders say the next federal government, elected on Monday, must relinquish its bureaucratic grip to help fix the ongoing crisis in First Nations housing.

Nationally, half of First Nations people living on reserve — and one-quarter of First Nations in the country overall — need serious housing repairs. Another third live in overcrowded on-reserve housing, while nationally 20 per cent live in overcrowded homes on and off reserves.

To provide long-term funding for affordable housing, the provincial government signed a 10-year, $300-million agreement with the federal government earlier this year to implement a strategy called A Home for Everyone.

The strategy proposes the construction of 922 units for individuals, families and seniors in need of housing as well as “300 housing options” for the homeless by 2029.

However, advocates such as Shelby MacIntyre, who works with the Fredericton John Howard Society, says that the affordable housing outlined in the plan is not being built fast enough.

For most, poverty is an uncomfortable reality we’ve come to accept as a part of our society. But our neighbours who have lived with poverty know that it is ever present in their life—the choice between rent and food on the table, the fear of unforeseen expenses you can’t meet, the inability to give your children the same experience as others.

When we talk about poverty, we are really talking about the ‘opportunity gap’—we all have potential; we don’t all have the same opportunity to fulfill it. Tackling poverty is about building hope—a belief in the potential of all Canadians.

Poverty is a driver of the opportunity gap in this country. It can be uncomfortable to talk about. It can seem too complicated to address. But poverty has no place in a resource-rich, compassionate country like Canada. Our failure to eliminate poverty is socially and economically unacceptable.

What does it mean to say we want to end poverty in Canada? More than an act of charity, this is a question of basic rights.

Poverty forces people to make impossible choices about which of their basic needs will be met each day. Beyond just material deprivation, poverty seeds social exclusion that undermines people’s sense of dignity and self-determination. And as a country, Canada has signed several international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic Social, Cultural Rights, that guarantee these rights to all people in Canada. But whether you understand international human rights law or not, a lack of access to food, shelter or clean drinking water in a country as wealthy as Canada is shameful.

Homelessness is expensive, individually and collectively. It takes a $7-billion bite out of the economy annually.

About 30,000 people experience homelessness in Canada on any given night – 235,000 over the course of a year – and about one in 10 are chronically on the streets.

An analysis by the Homes First Society found that chronically homeless people accumulate about $161,000 a year in costs when you consider medical care, interactions with police (up to one in four calls involve homeless people) and the criminal justice system, shelter costs and social supports like disability payments.

With winter only weeks away the residents of Fredericton’s tent city and the Mayor are calling on the provincial government to share their plan for the 40 some people that are living on the street.

“When it’s bad you have to go to a bank machine if nothing else,” said Donald McLeod who has been living in a tent behind government house.

Mcleod says if the province plans to open an emergency shelter it needs to have more than the 20 beds the out of the cold shelter had last winter.

Right now, Canada has the 10th-highest GDP in the world. Yet, one in every eight families nationwide struggles to put food on the table, and food bank usage across the country continues to rise.

Something must be done about poverty and food insecurity in Canada.

Thousands of people taking to the streets for the Global Climate Strike helped make the environment a policy issue for every major party. Poverty can also become a more significant issue if people took to the streets with Chew On This!, Canada’s largest anti-poverty advocacy campaign.