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The economics of homelessness as basic income pilot winds down

in Community/Social Issues by

Seventy-six years ago, an American psychologist named Abraham Maslow emphasized the process of growing and developing as a person in order to achieve one’s potential.

He called this process a ‘hierarchy of needs’ and, in a testament to common sense, said nothing was more important than basic physical requirements like food, water, sleep, and warmth, as well as safety and security.

Typically, most of us find these things in the security of our income and in the security of own home. When we can’t manage to secure these most basic of needs, though, we’re certainly not going to be able to grow any further as individuals, let alone make a contribution to society. In fact, we will become part of the pressure on our society’s health care system, on our social services, and on our policing and judicial systems.

Out of the few thousand people collecting basic income for a short time in Ontario, eight per cent were homeless in the past 12 months, prior to collecting the benefit. They were homeless an average more than 120 nights a year, according to the baseline survey.

The moral imperative to address issues like this is often lost in a sea of voices that would rather talk about economic impacts to the ‘taxpayer.’

The Economics

Some economics, then: The cost of one night of homelessness at A Place Called Home (and probably similar places in Thunder Bay, Hamilton, or elsewhere) is $62.62 a night, according to Dave Tilley, manager of fund development and operations at A Place Called Home in Lindsay.

One person multiplied by 120 nights at the homeless shelter is $7,514. And eight per cent of the 6,500 people involved in the basic income pilot in some way is 520 people.

That’s $3,907,280 a year.

For 520 people.

Certainly some could argue that not all 120 days were spent at places like A Place Called Home – that some of the homelessness we see includes couch surfing in other people’s homes. While that may be true, we have not even begun to examine other costs, such as hospital stays for crisis situations – which invariably happen often to those who are experiencing homelessness. (Oh, and the paramedic response that often accompanies the crises.)

Additionally from the baseline survey, we know that more than 43 per cent of basic income participants indicated that they were having real financial problems and falling behind. About 20 per cent were behind on paying their rent or mortgage for two or more months in the past year, fast approaching the threat of homelessness. (It didn’t help that more than 55 per cent of average income among participants was spent on shelter.)

A Canadian issue

Of course, other Canadians, including many living in Kawartha Lakes who were not on, or entitled to be, a part of the basic income pilot, would see themselves in these figures, too. These are not only issues about people who were collecting basic income – they are pan-Canadian in scope and it speaks to the growing inequality in our society that so many can recognize themselves in numbers like this.

Just days ago a survey released by MNP Ltd shows the number of Canadians who are $200 or less away from financial insolvency at month-end has jumped to 46 per cent. Nearly half of Canadians have so little wiggle room in their finances that just $200 of unexpected bills could prove financially disastrous.

So as we look at, and judge how to respond to issues like homelessness, public health, or basic income, we should perhaps recognize the vulnerability of much of Canadian society. How many paycheques are any of us away from needing a helping hand?

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Lindsay Advocate. He is the author of 'Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World,' and is also on the communications team of the Basic Income Canada Network. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, Roderick has interviewed former Prime Ministers of Canada, Senators, and Mayors across Canada. He also wrote and published a series of books for youth about Canada's Prime Ministers as teens.


  1. I too was impressed with the intuitive logic of Maslow’s hierarchy when introduced to it in introductory psychology in my freshman year at university. But in light of my life’s experience, I disagree that when we cannot meet our basic needs, we cannot continue to grow as individuals or make any contribution to society.

    Many people struggle with poverty and social marginalization rather than resort to crime or submit to corruption and I contend that that shows great strength of character and that its example is a great contribution to our society.

    Sadly, people who refuse bribes, refuse to comply with corruption or refuse to join gangs or other criminal networks often find themselves blacklisted and unemployed. Sherron Watkins, the famous Enron whistleblower, said her research showed that MOST whistleblowers, herself the exception, go downhill very quickly after refusing to comply with workplace crime and corruption. They are demonized, criminalized, blacklisted and quickly lose their homes, their credit, and their families. Many become targets of reprisal and lose any accumulated wealth they owned. Then they become homeless and die. Their example is intended by system criminals to intimidate the rest of us into submission, compliance, corruption and active lives of crime.

    But such martyrs to goodness are examples of strength and courage for all people of good will and their example is what gives courage to other would-be social and government reformers. Gradually, a society so infected by bullying leadership wakes up and either their protests reform society or they revolt and overthrow their leaders.

    I think social reformers – not the lawyers who call themselves community activists but the humble nobodies who just want honest labour – could better resist and protest crime and corruption in the private and public sectors if a system of basic income made it possible for more of them to survive.

    But I want basic income to be federal and to be administered by CRA software, with no means test, as a right, not a benefit. And I want it to replace homeless shelters, food banks, and current welfare and disability programs so that the anonymous and too often maligned taxpayer – that majority of us who are just $200 a month from financial insolvency – gets a break. A software administration of a basic income stipend would allow us to increase the income of single indigents to three times what they now receive and still save us almost-insolvents $millions in cuts to bureaucracy.

    The bureaucrats have transferable skills; they will land on their feet.

    And yes, some people may need help to manage a basic income but they are fewer than most people assume and in those few cases, assign them a trustee to pay their bills and then leave them alone to dance to the beat of whatever drummer inspires them.

  2. How many people in Lindsay have anything in common with an Enron whistleblower as a justification for a guaranteed wage. None.

  3. Dear Joan,
    Thank you for posting your most insiteful academic opinion.
    It makes perfect sense to me, however the masses who are comfortable
    With all basics in place, such as job,wealth and an established home find it
    So difficult to understand…….that “mantra” of laziness or get a job overrides
    The individuals crisis experience.
    Once upon a time I lived as an upper class citizen with all of my basics plus
    Luxuries in place. My husband abandoned our family, and adopted a new family
    After a 26 year marriage. It became apparent that family law accommodates vulnerable
    Dependent spouses and children, unless there r extenuating circumstances.
    It would require the dependents to be a criminal, to relieve the ex-husband of his support obligations. This was the campaign of terror that my X embarked on, with
    The assistance of his new family and friends. The relenting chronic complaints and calls to police eventually left me with serious criminal charges. During the overlapping criminal and family court proceedings, all of my share of liquid assets disappeared under the exclusive control of the X. At one point the family judge said she would no longer accept anymore frivolous motions from my X. Finally I had some breathing room……
    Managed to graduate with honours from college, really looking forward to a new career
    And life as a single mother with a fresh start.
    Unfortunately the unrelenting threats, stalking, harassment of my family,friends and employer left me with several stress related diseases.
    As I was settling into my new home after graduation I experienced phantom complaints
    Made to management of my building. I kept asking for details or evidence. Eventually it turned into steps to evict me……..I realized without a home, no career equals no life. Local court requested proof or reason for the harassment, none was forthcoming. Judge places a restraining order against the management to protect my home.
    Living in another toxic situation was not tolerable for me……I needed to feel safe and at peace in my home. Few months later I moved into a home where there was no management to collude with for harassment in my home. Lived there peacefully for most part for 7 years. Shortly after my move to my new safe home…….a new motion was filed in family court by my X to cut off my support immediately. No case conference, no warnings just a judge who signed an order to go without any explanation.
    Again the homeless threat was upon me……..a quick trip to social services. I dumped all the files and proof of my unrelenting accusers…..staff told me that with my experience hopefully it would put me in the position to help others someday. After six months on welfare working close with my social services worker, she said your done. She handed me an application for disability with instruction to take it to my doctor.
    I managed to maintain my home for the next two years for my son and myself, while cutting back on electrical usage about 80%. The ongoing cases for provincial and federal disability where exactly like a court case. Loads of assessments, doctor letters,test results,interviews, over 150 docs exchanged. Here I was again! Running thru a double legal case load just to survive. The pain and symptoms of my diseases were very challenging while managing to try safe and sane at same time and be there for my children. Twelve years later, I decide to use some of fraud compensation I received to take my once in a lifetime dream vacation, with a trusted friend. It was so exhilarating to spend 2 weeks taking in the culture,landscapes,coastlines,incredible architecture and the art was more than breathtaking. Upon my return to Canada, I was taken aside at customs and advised there was an outstanding order for my arrest. When I finally got home I contacted the precinct where my X had filed another criminal complaint, to discover the arrest warrant was 11 years old. So all that time I was trying to safely and peacefully acquire housing and a job, yet it appears that everyone except me found out about the arrest warrant. Yet NOBODY took responsibility to follow through and tell me.
    The bizarre responses to attempts to acquire employment and maintain my home all came flooding back. What an AHAA moment as my mind began to spin realizing that I was discriminated in housing and jobs because of a false report made to police . Moving forward I was able to get confirmation from all legal sources, that the alleged court orders my X fraudulently produced and delivered to police, were never validated, authenticated. Additionally the police files I asked about investigative steps taken during time arrest warrant was issued, indicates nothing was done. This was confirmed by police own administration staff. Most ironic part is that at one point I made an application to work in my own town police station in administrative position. They took extensive life/work history from me, called me in for a group interview with much instruction on how work culture and shifts would be. Short time later I was called into do skill tests including a dicta type. I was very confident in my touch typing skills at 40-50 wpm. I was declined a job offer. Did they do a background search ? Arrest warrant was about 2-3 years old at that point. How could this potential employer not know? Why would they not arrest me or advise me to order my record search? OMG……
    The police precinct that issued the order failed to act on the warrant, telling me they could not find me! On my CPIC report it indicated my home address where I lived for 7 years. So not contacting me while I lived full time in my home of which address was in their own CPIC records was the polices reason for not acting on their warrant. This is what happened despite fact I was in close contact with police by phone,email,and several job application steps. Was this a demoralizing mode of incompetence, or does the right hand really not know what the left hand is doing?
    There have been many steps taken on my part to investigate, collect documents, extensive record searches, and request for evidence using to issue the arrest warrant.
    Documents are in hands of several government organizations. The work of the Adjudicator has been done, and decision to release the falsified court orders will be released in due time.
    If someone asked me what I thought of a universal income 20 years ago, I would reflect on my hard work,risks and sacrifices to build a business while raising a family. Although my decision would be based on my compassionate faith, my opinion would have been NO
    They are able to be educated and work with exception of disabled persons.
    Never in my worst nightmare would I have imagined how my life would take such evil and depraved acts of turning a good, hard working responsible person into a desperate,
    Helpless and hopeless situation. I can only say that going from being a contributing. Thriving person of this land to a chronically abused,falsely accused criminal has turned my brain and body to mush. I must credit the many friends, family and my church and counsellor from preventing my suicide. Much praise and many thanks to my college program, that involved much comprehensive work and insights to my personal issues, life habits, and inborn nature to heal from damages and to acknowledge a non judgmental attitude towards persons I would be caring for in my new career.
    Sadly the ink on my diploma was still wet, on a nice spring day in May when my X attended the police station with his creative court orders commanding police to arrest me! While I was writing my exams, he was forging court orders to ensure my hopes of a new life and career would be gone forever.
    Ask me now after the experiences I have had if I believe in universal income. My brain is so stretched beyond ability to seek alternative ideas, that my answer is a resounding…Yes!

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