The ambiance was glowing and it was warm inside the lovely BRU Coffee + Beer House on Edmonton’s lively Jasper Avenue. Despite the fact that it was nearly -30°, dozens of people braved the cold outside to join us, excited about the night and our event. Bissell Centre’s CEO Gary St. Amand was the keynote speaker, and he delivered an impassioned speech about what his organization has done for the community, and what we can do to help our communities at an individual level. He discussed the fact that his team have reduced homelessness in Edmonton by 40% in the last decade — which is an extraordinary feat — yet spoke of it with a kind of wistful modesty; he did not even pause to celebrate in that glory, but instead was clearly preoccupied and deeply driven by all that is left to accomplish.
While obviously the main goal of the night was to provide much-needed support for this crucial Edmonton institution, it also provided a safe space to facilitate a thoughtful conversation. When it came to the questions section following Mr. Amand’s speech, people asked thought-provoking questions, including: “What can we do on a personal level to help?”, “How will the soon-to-be legal marijuana industry affect crime and people currently earning a less than legitimate income?”, and “What percentage of the people you intervene to keep housed are children?”.
One of the most memorable takeaways from the dialogue was the revelation that the strain of homelessness to our social systems cost a lot more than emergency housing does. He discussed a very successful program they run, which he referred to as “eviction prevention”, and revealed that the average eviction costs the property owner $2,500.00, more than the average struggling tenant owes in arrears (a property manager who happened to be at the event attested to the fact). Bissell Centre aims to help people who are going through a rough patch by assisting them in repaying past-due rent amounts, which saves property owners money, and often costs taxpayers less than emergency housing or other types of social services might. You can see why this program is clearly very impactful.
In recent years, the Albertan city of Medicine Hat has made headlines for eradicating homelessness in their city using some — though controversial — clearly effective means. Like socialists have been theorizing for many years, Mayor Ted Clugston said that he and his colleagues found that paying for emergency housing for vulnerable populations directly translated to declining costs! Even The New York Times wrote about our modest little Medicine Hat as a champion of impactful policy-making.
But what is controversial about this in our conservative, capitalist community is that people don’t often understand that the concept of “you have to spend money to make money” is also true in effective governance, particularly when it comes to a housing crisis. Practice empathy: imagine trying to get (and hold) a job when a warm meal, a regular shower, and a good night’s sleep are unattainable luxuries. When you don’t have a computer to apply for jobs or print a résumé. When you don’t have access to a much-needed medication or service. Not to mention the fact that joblessness, debt, and overdue rent are all ‘snowballing’ issues. What society underestimates is the innate desire a majority of these people have to return to being productive, purposeful, tax-paying citizens. This is one of the insanely rare and beautiful moments in life where doing the right thing is also doing the fiscally responsible thing.
What does this mean to you?
If you think taxes are too high, are spent ineffectively, and feel sick to your stomach about all the suffering homeless people in our otherwise beautiful city, vote for lawmakers who support similar inclusive policies on housing the people who need it most.
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What can you do to really make a difference?
Put your money (or time) where your mouth is!
Have a corporate charity budget to spend, or even a little extra spending money to help someone in need? You can donate to Bissell Centre quite easily by clicking here!
Want to impact your community with your time? We host tons of amazing, fun, charitable events that involve networking with like-minded people and helping make a difference. If you’re interested in getting involved and having a great time, contact us here!
For more information about homelessness and its correlation with criminality, please read this in-depth article: “Deterring and Punishing is Actually Accelerating and Harming: Modern Society & Current Youth Justice Systems as Accelerants of Mental Illness, Homelessness, and Criminality”.