At the dawn of the 2020s, Canada has much to do when it comes to taking care of its own ‘house.’

As we enter a new decade, consider: are we living in healthier and stronger communities than in the past?

In the 1990s, Canada’s homelessness problem was labelled a disaster. In the early 2000s, one United Nations (UN) agency called Canada’s situation a “national emergency.”

In 2008, Ontario’s Human Rights Commission called on the provincial government to recognize housing as a basic human right. In 2016, another UN committee criticized Canada for its “persistent housing crisis.”

The country’s housing problem is not new…

A dizzying number of experts have offered competing explanations for our absurd housing prices.

At its core, the issue is simple. The link between housing prices and local incomes is broken.

Two solutions are obvious.

We can address the crisis by bringing market housing prices down to levels that reflect local incomes, or by building enough non-market housing to meet demand.

We’re doing little serious on either front, certainly not compared to the scale of the problem.

Homelessness is spinning out of control in many places, not least right here in Toronto. However, in California, the situation is now generating an acute political crisis. So great is the problem of mass destitution in that state that whole urban areas are facing a threat to public health and a level of social dislocation that undermines public order and the basic level of social stability needed for capitalism to conduct business. Trump’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is reporting an increase in the homeless population of California of 16.4% over the course of the last year and alarm bells are ringing the corridors of power. The human misery of destitution has now reached such levels that the cash registers are being affected.

It’s been a brutal decade for homeless people in Canada.

In Toronto alone, approximately 3,000 more people are homeless than 10 years ago.

Shelters are full across the country. There are waiting lists for family shelters. Municipalities rely on motels for homeless families. Tent encampments are no longer just found in parks in major cities, like Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park. Encampments can now be seen in London, Kingston and Peterborough.

In Toronto, tent encampments are no longer confined to the Don Valley Ravine or the Rosedale Valley. Encampments dot major thoroughfares. Tents and tarps are now high on the wish lists of outreach and shelter workers — and these supplies must be distributed surreptitiously so agencies do not lose their city funding.

During their busiest time of the year, it’s important to acknowledge that food banks are not the cure to food insecurity in Nova Scotia.

“I think during this time of year with the increased costs associated with holidays, people are really struggling,” says Patty Williams, director of FoodARC, an organization that works collaboratively with individuals affected by food insecurity to enhance the welfare of individuals and communities.

“Food banks have good intentions in terms of stepping in and trying to do something, and people have good intentions in terms of giving to food banks, but I think that despite these intentions, they’re not addressing the problem and are, in many ways, hiding the real issues.”

In a given year, 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness.

That’s a population the size of a small city.

In Toronto, activists say there have never been so many people without a place to call their own. They use the word “epidemic.”

According to the Toronto Homeless Memorial Network, a group that tracks deaths among the homeless, 17 have died in Toronto since the beginning of October 2019.

The thing is, when people talk about the homeless it’s often in terms of numbers and statistics like the ones above — but the issue really hits home when you meet the people.

As a businessman who is concerned about the ‘mass catastrophe of homelessness’ I appreciate the way that Ian De Jong is telling it like it is. I might add that while creating more housing is the answer, we also need some short-term answers while we are waiting for the political will to respond to this catastrophe. Toronto street nurse, Cathy Crowe, managed to have Toronto City Council declare homelessness a national disaster in 1998, and the crisis has only gotten worse.

And people ask, ‘how are we going to pay it? A key question to ask is ‘What are our Priorities’? To give one example, we need to ask why our federal government is looking at purchasing 88 US fighter jets at a cost of over $100 million each. Can someone please tell us why Canada needs to buy these fighter jets, other than for air shows, when we have so many urgent humanitarian needs?

Twenty-fie years ago the federal government cancelled its National Housing policy, and there has been virtually no federal funding since that time to create new low rental housing. In Toronto alone, there are over 100,000 individuals on the waiting list of Toronto Housing Corp.

The new federal funding programs do not come anywhere close to addressing the current crisis. It is going to take an incredible effort to overcome 25 years of neglect. Greatly increased federal funding is essential to creating new low rental housing, and we all need to work together to make our voices heard.