JESSICA FIGLEY and ISLA REDHEAD

Canada is often thought of as a land of peace and justice, but is it really that way for everyone? It seems that it’s not always the case for those who are homeless or otherwise displaced.

As a nation we are commonly recognized as humanitarian. At home and abroad Canada is seen as a nation that both promotes and practices social justice. In our development policies we are applauded for our generosity and commitment to ensuring human welfare.

But is there truth to this depiction? As a nation are we worthy or deserving of such a glamorous title? When it is taken into consideration that Canada is one of the richest countries in the world yet there are many people who do not have access to affordable housing, adequate nutrition or opportunities to improve themselves, Canada does not appear to be as humanitarian as its reputation would suggest.

Homelessness and affordable housing is only one of a plethora of social issues that remain unaddressed or under-addressed in Canada. It is an issue that remains swept by the wayside by both the government and the general public.

As noted in Bill C-400, an estimated 400,000 Canadians move in and out of homelessness each year and an additional 3.3 million Canadians live in substandard housing. Around 1.5 million households in Canada are classified as insecure. For every person who finds a bed in a shelter during any given evening, there are 23 more who continue to suffer from housing vulnerability.

An individual’s socio-economic status is impacted by a variety of circumstances, including earnings and income distribution, education, unemployment and job security, early childhood development, food insecurity, housing, social exclusion, social safety network, health services, gender, race and disability. Known as the social determinants of health, these factors are the same across the globe and are noted to be a significant determining aspect in the health of individuals and of society as a whole.

The social determinants of health have become a focus of study for a multitude of students on campus. It has been attractive to students because it encourages them to make connections between the causes and effects of social inequality.

As an interdisciplinary field, the social determinants of health advocate for preventative action and the application of holistic knowledge on poverty, homelessness and poor health. The area emphasizes the link between socio-economic status and health, and how the two conditions are intricately linked to the point where they are almost inseparable.

Likewise, the social determinants of health highlight how the existence of conditions of socio-economic inequality detrimentally impacts the lives of everyone, regardless of whether or not they experience poverty first-hand

Despite the rapid intensification of homelessness and other socio-economic inequalities, Canada remains the only G8 country without a national housing strategy. The realities and extent of homelessness and social inequality are well known by our current conservative government, yet no changes have been enacted to address the situation.

In fact, legislation to enact change is routinely struck down by parliament. Most provinces have a poverty reduction plan; however they are developed on an ad hoc basis, without consideration of wider application or an attempt to understand poverty as a consequence rather than a condition. Without federal oversight, Saskatchewan and British Columbia stand as the only provinces that have yet to address issues of poverty within their communities — both need a poverty reduction plan.

But the situation isn’t hopeless. There are many ways that we can — and desperately need to — get the ball rolling on social justice within our communities. There are many organizations working right now to end poverty and homelessness in Saskatoon specifically.

The Saskatoon Anti-Poverty Coalition, Lighthouse, Equal Justice for All and Passion for Action Against Homelessness are among the organizations working toward lasting structural changes in Saskatoon as well as working on the front lines to help people find shelter and improve their general well-being. If there is hope to end homelessness in Saskatoon, it will be seen through these organizations, community-based support and in the actions of citizens.

There are many ways that University of Saskatchewan students can begin to help out and get involved.

There will be a number of functions taking place on and off-campus in March including Concert for Change, Poverty Costs and 5 Days for the Homeless. These events will focus on both public education and fundraising for local initiatives towards social justice — all of which are positive steps forward in filling the gap between what our communities need, and what our government is currently not addressing adequately.

Poverty Costs is a Saskatchewan-based campaign to raise awareness about how the burden of poverty is on each and every one of us and its motive is to mobilize the Saskatchewan community to call for a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy.

Dr. Ryan Meili, a physician at the Westside Clinic and well-known social activist, is a founding member of the Poverty Costs campaign. Meili is equally involved in Upstream, a movement to create healthy societies through evidence-based, people-centered ideas. Poverty Costs will run during the week of Mar. 10-15 and will include online and offline auction items, opportunities for education about poverty in Saskatchewan and local events.

Concert for Change: First Voice Action Against Homelessness is on Saturday, Mar. 15 at Amigos Cantina. Proceeds go to Saskatoon Anti-Poverty Coalition and Passion for Action Against Homelessness.