HARDLY WORTH IT Working for a living still leaves many homeless

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JOSH SMITH ISN'T AFRAID TO WORK FOR WHAT HE GETS. But what he gets isn’t enough to put a roof over his head.

Josh holds down a full-time job in Banff, Alberta. But when he finishes his shift he has no home to go to. The $800 he can afford to pay for rent just isn’t good enough.

Instead, the 22-year-old is forced into homelessness. He has no choice but to walk around the town carrying a backpack filled with his clothes and toiletries. Always on the lookout for someplace to spend the night.

Sometimes he can catch a few hours in the local McDonald’s, which is open 24/7. Sometimes in a park. One way to get away with that is to: “Flip out a little blanket and put some glasses on – act like you’re tanning,” says Josh.

Josh tried to get by with couch surfing, but that offered no permanent solution.

He has to resort to using public restrooms to wash, and he’s not the only one.

“Every time I go, there’s a buddy brushing his teeth or washing his hair. Or he’s got the wet paper towel and he’s wiping down his body. It’s like, yeah, everyone is in the same boat as me.”

Banff currently has a zero percent vacancy rate for rental properties. An additional 130 affordable housing units won’t be available until late 2018 when the construction of a new tower block is scheduled to be completed.

A problem nationwide
Holding down a job and still being homeless doesn’t only happen in Banff.

In Calgary, at least 40 percent of the city’s homeless population is working, according to Face It Calgary, a campaign launched by a coalition of agencies to get rid of homelessness in the city.

With an estimated 3,500 people homeless every night, that’s at least 1,400 workers who are homeless. Another 14,000 households are considered at risk of homelessness.

In Toronto, one-fifth of homeless people are employed.

In Vancouver, it’s a similar story. The speculative practices of the major banks and corporate investors keep pushing the cost of housing higher and higher. According to Vancouver’s homeless count for 2016, 23 percent of the city’s homeless population work. But what they earn leaves them far short of the cost of rent on the most modest apartment.

Campaigns for higher wages, like the $15 minimum wage, can be a first step in turning around this injustice. But as Josh Smith’s predicament shows, even someone who is earning close to $15 an hour, will not necessarily be able to pay for a roof over their head.

Broad social changes are needed that begin with affirming the right to housing for al—particularly if you have a job.


This article was originally published by The Canadian Labour Institute.  

Reprinted with permission for CALM Members use.