In Lethbridge, the reasons that families and individuals experience homelessness are as diverse as the people themselves. Each person’s reason for living in a shelter or on the street is their own personal story.
Homelessness is a very complex issue that affects the community from an economic and a social perspective. While the factors that lead someone into homelessness are anything but simple, some of the major root causes of homelessness in Lethbridge include at least one of the following:
- the rising costs of housing
- poverty and the lack of affordable housing: current levels of housing costs, coupled with low-wage jobs can result in even the working poor being forced out of their homes
- divorce, domestic violence and lack of family support
- broken relationships
- chronic health problems or physical disabilities
- sudden job loss due to injury or illness
- mental illness*
- drug, alcohol and gambling addictions
- natural disasters
- trauma (situational and/or intergenerational), abuse and/or neglect
Keep in mind, that many people’s experience often includes more than one root cause, and in many cases, several.
Lack of Affordable Housing and Housing Support Services
'A lack of affordable housing and the limited scale of housing assistance programs are the primary causes of homelessness. The growing gap between the number of affordable housing units and the number of people needing them has created a housing crisis for poor people.' (National Coalition for the Homeless)
In Lethbridge, people experience many barriers to housing, the main one being the lack of available safe and affordable housing stock. This is due to many reasons. They include:
- the current economic boom in Alberta
- the migration of people searching for work
- the backlog of housing construction
- the lack of multi-family housing construction
- lack of affordable housing stock
- lack of suitable housing stock
Other barriers include a person simply not having the funds required for the damage deposit, first month’s rent and utility start up costs. Discrimination is also a barrier people encounter in finding appropriate housing (Last on the List, 2001).
Did you know …
- The current waiting lists for subsidized housing (Lethbridge Housing Authority and Treaty 7 Housing) indicate mounting pressure for people to access this essential service
- Many landlord tenant conflict results in eviction
- Outreach support services for people retaining housing are required to sustain secure housing
Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked. Poor people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, childcare, health care and education. This means that difficult choices must be made when limited resources cover only some of these necessities. Often it is housing, which absorbs a high proportion of income that must be given up.
Did you know …
- Lethbridge has the third highest rate of people living below LICO at over 16% of the population, including 1:5 children living in poverty (Poverty Profile in Alberta and StatsCan, 2006)
- Current low-income wages have put home ownership and market rental housing out of reach for many people
Illness and Substance Use
- Substance use is often a contributing factor to homelessness and is generally the end result of other life issues people encounter, including other root causes such as spousal abuse, broken relationships, mental illness and physical disabilities
- People living in homelessness may be more vulnerable to disease due to their proximity living with others in smaller spaces or on the street
- The mortality rate of homeless people is significantly higher than that of the general population
The solution, quite simply, is more affordable, appropriate housing along with Housing First supports to help people settle into adequate, permanent housing. This, along with the addition of community supports, can help people remain in their housing and participate fully and productively in society.