A national guaranteed basic income modelled after a pilot program that once existed in Ontario could cut poverty levels nearly in half, according to Canada’s spending watchdog.

The overall cost of the program would be $85 billion in 2021-22, increasing to $93 billion in its fourth year, although eliminating a wide array of federal and provincial tax credits no longer needed could fund much of the project through new personal income-tax revenues.

It is time to demand reform to our safety net of income security to a basic level of income for all Canadians — to reduce poverty and inequality.

This is time to recognize the polarization of income (haves and have-nots), and stop stigmatizing and degrading people living in poverty. It’s also a time to make decisions on a just society that will not be impacted by political concessions or changes in the political party in power. A basic income should be a right, not a privilege. Moving from welfare to an income transfer program is moving helplessness to hope.

A civilized and modern society is measured by how well it cares for the most vulnerable and marginalized. That includes people experiencing homelessness.

Raphaël “Napa” André died alone in January during a curfew, huddled inside a portable toilet near a closed shelter he used to frequent. It’s a sad example of the absurdity of some of the government’s pandemic measures, which have used COVID-19 as a pretext to flout human rights. In February, the city of Montreal boarded up the benches in the Bonaventure metro station, where people experiencing homelessness used to go. It was a way to exclude them from a safe space where they could gather, something all the more necessary considering the frequent changes in the services offered by shelters (locations, hours, facilities) since the beginning of this crisis. And I haven’t even mentioned the fiasco of the Notre-Dame tent camp. Dismantled by police last December, it may face the same fate this year.

At CPJ we have always maintained that an end to poverty in Canada can only be attained through a suite of comprehensive, rights-based policies. Poverty must be addressed as a matter of health, employment, education, food security, housing, and income. But even more fundamentally, it must be addressed as a matter of human rights and dignity.

To end poverty, we need a comprehensive suite of universally-accessible public programs, regulatory standards, and fair taxation. No one program or sector can do this alone, including basic income. Income alone cannot solve a lack of housing stock or childcare spaces. It cannot replace supportive, culturally responsive, professional services. Advocates of basic income agree that adequate income must be provided in tandem with other rights-based policies and programs to ensure people get the supports that meet their needs.

Do we judge homeless people, blaming them? Surely they squandered money, got fired or are lazy.

But many homeless have mental issues, addictions, medical issues, disabilities and no family support.

Clinical psychologist Sam Tsemberis acted when he saw homeless programs in New York were not working.

Homeless people had to show they had overcome addiction and mental illness, and found work, before getting housing.

Social agencies were putting the cart before the horse by not housing them first.

The District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board (DNSSAB) says the crisis centre and low-barrier homeless shelter have been experiencing and “overflow” of those needing services since Jan. 1.

It’s a concern that continues to worry staff.

“We haven’t been turning individuals away, especially during the cold winter nights,” said Stacey Cyopeck, the board’s director of housing programs. “With the pandemic, that’s not something we want to be doing.”

Newly released figures from Statistics Canada show that for several years ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rates of both poverty and income inequality had been trending downwards.

And while the pandemic led to major economic disruption, government interventions so far appear to have been enough to continue the downward trend.