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University of Calgary report shows that Calgarians are at the cusp of homelessness 

By Reyam Jamaleddine, November 17 2023—

A new report conducted by the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary reveals that 115,00 Calgarians are at extreme risk of losing their housing. 

In an interview with the Gauntlet, Ron Kneebone, professor of Economics and director of Social Policy Research at the School of Public Policy dived into the details of the report and what this number means. 

The extreme risk of homelessness presents families with extreme circumstances as Kneebone describes. 

“Well one of the things they would do is rent the cheapest rental unit they can and we know from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) what the cost of those rental units are. They would also start to what’s known as crowd, they would live in a rental unit that’s smaller than recommended by national occupancy standard. Sometimes that means kids of opposite sex won’t have their own bedrooms, they’ll be sharing, they might even share with the parent,” said Kneebone. 

“If people worked as hard as they possibly could in order to retain housing, how many of them would be on the cusp of homelessness if we assumed they behave like that? It turns out there’s roughly 115,000 adults and children on the cusp of homelessness,” said Kneebone. 

While examining these facts, Kneebone provided reasoning for these extreme numbers and exceedingly strenuous circumstances that those who were studied in the report are living in. 

“It happens because housing is expensive, its happening because food prices are high and it’s happening because a lot of people are relatively low income and they have to try to survive with that low income,” said Kneebone.

When asked about how this staggering number affects students, Kneebone underscores the differences between students and those who were studied in the report. 

“Students are a lot different than the people we talked about in our research report. The people were talking about, this is their lives. They are in a position of earning relatively low incomes, and they’re facing very high costs of living and they are struggling to maintain their housing.”

“Students are different, students are in the position they are in because they’re investing in their future. So they’re investing in an education hoping that they’ll be able to find employment so that they won’t have to live like the people we described in our report. They are investing in their future and that investment involves living in difficult situations. But for a student, the end is clear, that once they graduate things will be better. That’s quite a bit of a different circumstance than people who are living the lives they are,” said Kneebone.

Kneebone asserts that a better way of combatting homelessness would be to ensure that the people who are on the verge of losing their homes are able to keep them. He highlights that this is a better investment than losing their homes in the first place. This can be done by expanding subsidies for those who can not afford their mortgages and rent. 

In addition to this, Kneebone addresses the need for food banks, including their availability in post-secondary institutions. 

“Food banks are an important part of this fight against homelessness. The existence of a food bank enables people in certain circumstances to minimize their expenditure on food by using a food bank instead, and by doing that they’re able to retain their housing better than they would otherwise.”

“The same thing is true for a student who is in difficult situations. The availability of a student food bank helps them maintain or reserve for their rent the limited amount of income they have. They serve the same purpose to help students maintain their housing and keep their housing,” said Kneebone. 

To read more about the report by the School of Public Policy here.

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