Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Statistics Don't Match Fantasy

Or, at least that's how the latest from Richard Evans reads.

Basically, Richard is getting upset because the definition of homelessness includes people who 'couch surf' because they have no fixed address, or are in the midst of some kind of personal crisis - as well as including those who live on the street and quite literally have no home.

On one level, I can sort of appreciate that Richard is attempting to criticize the existing statistics for not be adequately precise in their definition. (and, based on his snarky, but otherwise vacuous, comments he believes that any argument built on the existing statistics is by definition invalid):

Here’s the point: the current stats are skewed. They’re bunk. Without a proper breakdown between the number of “really homeless” vs the “homeless but not really homeless”, they’re not providing any real information on the actual number of people on our streets.


Keep that in mind when the candidates and social activists start throwing “homeless” numbers around in the run up to the civic election…

Actually, what Mr. Evans clearly is failing to comprehend is that homelessness, like a variety of other human conditions is expressed in a wide range of different ways. Some people have "family resources" that they can draw upon that rescue them from the truly destructive aspects of living on the streets (such as sleeping outside in sub-zero temperatures).

He is also failing to recognize that all of these people collectively place pressures on the housing and social support networks in the city. People who, for any of a dozen different reasons cannot find a place to call home - whether that is a temporary or long-term situation are an indication of problems within the city.

In Calgary, someone living in the city is going to have a struggle to find any kind of home that they can afford if their income is much below $2,000 / month - at least not if they want to be able to eat. (Calgary's rental market is running at record low vacancy rates, and rental of even a small apartment is pushing over $1000 in most of the city. (I'm sure that there are a few exceptions, but not many)

Someone who is "couch surfing" between friends is still homeless - no matter what hallucinations Mr. Evans may have to the contrary. They don't have the basics - like a stable mailing address or telephone number - which makes it considerably harder to access the very social programs that can help break the cycle.

Perhaps more disturbing is the observation that homeless people often suffer greatly increased rates of mental illness - ranging from relatively manageable conditions such as stress to more serious conditions like schizophrenia. The first thing that most mentally ill people need is stability - and being homeless is guaranteed instability in life.

The condition of homelessness tells us a great deal about the threshold at which someone is living in poverty because of their income (or lack of it). Right now, in Calgary, that bar's gotten pretty high.

But then again, poverty is just a matter of "poor decisions" ... at least in Mr. Evans' mind.

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