Winter’s coming: we must all do more for homeless

by | Oct 23, 2015 | Opinion

Haley Falco
Art Director

Though Canadians are more aware of the issue than before, homelessness is still one of the biggest chronic social problems in this country.

According to the CBC, 30,000 Canadians are homeless every single night, sleeping on the pavement with an empty stomach. Homelessness is a term that describes people who do not have secure and regular housing. Various and inconsistent local initiatives have been taken to decrease our homeless population, but they have not been enough.

Until government-supported programs, whether local or provincial, can adequately tackle the challenge, each of us as can do our part.

The outgoing Harper government endeavoured to change the discourse surrounding homelessness. Instead of “helping the homeless,” they are “ending homelessness.”

As the Canadian air again turns chill, simple compassion requires something be done about homelessness. Surviving the Canadian winter is the hardest thing a homeless person has to face. With this country’s harsh climate, the homeless can face a daunting challenge just to stay alive. When the temperature falls below 0 degrees and schools shut down in snow storms because it’s too much of a risk to travel, people usually stay indoors and warm up under a blanket with a hot tea.

Homeless people don’t have that option.

According to Environment Canada, at least 80 people die each year from the cold weather, many of them out on the streets.

Assistance is not necessarily costly or difficult to provide. People who keep an extra bottle of water in their bag and a pair of warm mittens to give away can help a lot when dehydration becomes extreme for a homeless person and their fingertips are aching and numb.

Offering a homeless person something to eat not only feeds them a much-needed meal, but also inspires others in the community to do the same.

Educating yourself about homelessness is the first step to understanding the issue in its entirety. People become homeless for many different reasons – unemployment, abuse, mental illness, poverty and more. In the blink of an eye, your own life could change for the worse. That should remind people that the less fortunate aren’t as different from us as we might think.

Of course, help isn’t just something we can give as individuals to individuals; there are good local services we can support with donations and volunteering.

Initiatives like Homeless Helpers, an organization created by two sisters wanting to make a positive change, or Heroes in Black, founded by Matte Black, former homeless man wanting to help homeless Torontonians, are exceptional services for the homeless population in Toronto.

There are also food banks and local churches with free meals throughout the city, but many people in need don’t know about them or lack reliable transportation.

By informing them where such aid is offered, the homeless can reach out to the services available to them.

The more of us who are aware of this issue, the easier it will be to help the homeless get back on their feet and experience a life with dignity. Every human has the right to food, shelter and clothing.

By understanding the causes of homelessness and educating ourselves on the resources available in our communities, homeless people will have a greater chance of getting the help they need.