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A good time to reflect on homelessness


Our recent frigid winter cold spell has been an experience that refreshes one’s appreciation for what we so easily take for granted. A warm shelter and home, where we feel supported and secure. There is a feeling of not only physical comfort but also the re-assurance of knowing we are safe and the community in which we live has our backs.

The question I offer for consideration: Is this a privilege I have earned or is this a right, which should be given to each member of this community?

As a civil and caring democratic society, which prides itself in being number one in quality of life, respecting the dignity of each human being and basic human rights as spelled out in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, why are there people who do not have the basics of such shelter and security?

May I suggest that this whole problem of homelessness is being addressed by an attitude of scarcity and charity rather than with an attitude of abundance and social justice.

The problem is not one of affordability, the problem lies within the system we call the free market capitalistic system of democracy.

To engage in this market system on the demand side, one needs resources and there are a whole variety of legitimate reasons why many, who are denied this market participation do not have the needed currency and resources. These are the ones, who will more than likely be the homeless. And they will stay homeless until the market system we so righteously defend, starts to acknowledge this systemic flaw and injustice, perpetuated by an emphasis on putting market self-interest above collective responsibility.   

On the supply side, there certainly is no shortage of labour, goods and the basic resources needed to meet the demand. Supply, however, is being determined more and more by the wants of those with money and influence, rather than the needs of those who are not able to participate in the system. Is this the type of social justice that will address the increasing inequity within our society? Providing for the basic needs of all before indulging the wants of the many and the few is a basic democratic human value our market system needs to revisit and honour. 

Free market capitalism also tries to justify itself by the use of misleading slogans such as “freedom of opportunity,” which emphasizes everyone has the same chance for success. If you are ambitious, work hard and compete you’ll be a winner. The fraction of truth in this statement is easily blown away by the injustice imbedded in its reality and practice. Real freedom of opportunity must also provide equal opportunity of outcome. Yes, we all start at the same starting line in life but many are carrying much bigger loads on their shoulders than others. A just society must factor this reality into its system.

Helpful reading on this topic is a recent book called “Things they don’t tell you about Capitalism” by Ha-Joon Chang, a Cambridge scholar and economist.

Also, the Jan. 17 Journal article by Issam Saleh, director of community engagement for the Muslim Association of Canada and board member with the Capital Region Housing Corp.: “Affordable housing more than bricks and mortar.”    

Wilf Borgstede, St. Albert