June 14th, 2024

Exclusion and poverty root causes of homelessness

By Lethbridge Herald on March 15, 2023.


I cannot offer very useful suggestions to resolve homelessness.  I can only write what I saw. I hope someday soon wise persons can identify the relevant issues that may lead to the resolution.           

In 1968, I joined a group of church workers to study the issues in cities including homelessness.  It was called the “Canadian Urban Training Program” held in Toronto directed by Dr. Ed File, a sociologist from York University.  

We wanted to look at the reality through personal experience. Its first phase was a total plunge into the homeless life in downtown with $5 in the pocket. It was a minimum amount of cash on a person required to avoid the charge of loitering. 

 We put on worn-out shabby clothes and lived among the homeless people for three days.  We ate at soup kitchens and slept in the shelters. 

 Decent people avoided eye contact.  People behaved as though we didn’t exist, even in the church I went during worship for warmth.   

The  street people in Toronto during those days were mostly unemployed Caucasian men and hippies. 

Indigenous people were not visible on Toronto streets: They were the Prairies phenomenon.  The problem of addiction I saw was mostly alcoholism.  I did not see any drug addicts.  I found that drug addiction was among the middle-class who could stay at home conducting a normal life in their jobs and professions. And the hippies who were from the middle-class families.  The addicts on the streets were there because they were poor.  

The homeless in Toronto were in the few thousands at the time.  I walked with them all over the city.  Rarely did we talk.  I never felt threatened.  I follow them because it was the easy way to find free food and shelter.   We sat on the park benches to rest, or lied down to sleep on the grass in the Sun.

During the 1990s in Montreal, every year I took teenagers from the church to help serve the Christmas dinner at a downtown city mission.  

I saw some unshaven men in their dis-sheveled three -piece business suits wearing dirty but good quality shoes.  The manager of the mission said that those men began to appear after a new casino was opened on the former Expo ‘67 site. 

You can only guess how they ended up living on the street.  

My daughter was once swarmed and beaten for no reason by angry people in downtown Toronto.  They were not homeless people.  It was during the recession of the ‘80s.  She sees the same kind of angry persons driven to senseless violence in downtown Toronto and the subway system in 2023.  She wonders if the cutbacks affecting the poor has something to do with random violence.

In Kenya, there is a settlement known as the world’s largest slum outskirt of Nairobi, the area called “Mathare Valley.”  The population was estimated to have been about a million people.  Many of them were families. I saw the place in the late 1970’s. The industrial scale commercial agriculture came into being as a part of “development” frenzy to East Africa. 

They grew cash crops like coffee, palm oil, sugar, tea and beef for export.  Family farmers lost their homes, land and livelihood.  They came to the city to find work and joined the massive homeless population. 

They lived outside of the city boundaries in tin shacks with no water, no sanitation nor sewage.  Many South American big cities have the same phenomenon.   Those communities are often ruled by criminal gangs as municipal authorities do not extend the service.

Homelessness is a universal problem of big cities including in the U.K., the U.S. and Europe. 

I saw a tent settlement in a downtown park in Portland, Oregon like the one we saw in Lethbridge.  During the days I travelled for work, 

I did not see homeless people in two cities: Beijing and Johannesburg.  It was illegal to be homeless in China.  Cities were under the strict control of the police of the Communist government. When the homeless were found, they were sent to countryside or factories for forced labour.

In South Africa under the racist Apartheid system, cities were divided into white and non-white areas.  In the white area there was a curfew for non-white people.  They went home to the Black Townships after the sunset.  There were no white homeless people in South Africa.

Homelessness has been around for a long time.  I don’t remember the time when I did not hear about it in my lifetime.  

No one country nor city has a monopoly.  None has worse problem than others. The bigger the city, the more homeless people.  Also they are made up of diverse populations. 

No one can point to one particular ethnic group as the source.  They all share poverty and exclusion.

The simplest way to eradicate homelessness is to ban it: make it illegal not to have a home. 

 It takes a totalitarian regime to do it.  Do we want to live under a totalitarian dictatorship because we do not want homeless people around us? 

We must find the  answer to the problem of exclusion and poverty which are the real root causes.

Tadashu (Tad) Mitsui


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the more you write to us, the more your life experience unfolds, and, the more your light appears. thank you for sharing your wisdom and your heart in this forum. you have placed yourself in some tough spots and always with service as your purpose. connecting the dots of a lifetime here, it is should emerge obvious to anyone wishing to see that greed, self service, corruption, hate all form the basis that create the wall between those with so much more than anyone needs, and those so wickedly without. horrible displacement due to industrial agriculture and cash crops is just a piece of the issue. we can add dirty mining practices, rigged economic “laws”, and the industrial military complex to the ugly puzzle.

John P Nightingale

A perfectly reasonable response to a very reasonable and well thought out letter. Yet someone chose to express their distaste by voting a minus. Of course, easy to disagree when you sign off anonymously and have nothing of merit to add.
Time to rid these pages of utterly useless contributions . And for that matter, how’s about deleting all the get rich schemes that permeate all aspects of any comments section?


it is tough to accept that there are those so bereft of heart.


You bring up some very good points and I agree with much of what you stated.
Lethbridge has had homeless on our streets for as far back as I can remember, and yes they used to be the alcohol addicted on our streets in small numbers, 99.9% Indigenous. Streets Alive ran a shelter where ReMax now sits, but the issues around downtown businesses got bad with about 20-30 of the homeless hanging around their businesses and Galt Gardens, performing sex acts, using business doorways as bathrooms, so they thought moving the shelter across the tracks to it’s current location would resolve those issues.
Since it was a new shelter they also increased the available space. Well it didn’t resolve the issues. The numbers increased, and they still came downtown and hung around the same areas . . . it failed to resolve the issues and only magnified the problem.
When the government was looking at legalizing marijuana, organized crime decided to find better drugs to make their drug revenues and Heroin, meth and synthetic drug supplies grew.
Organized crime is in the business to make money from illegal activities and even legalizing or decriminalizing drugs as they want or have done will no nothing but increase the issues, because the addicts want that extra ‘buzz’ they do not get from clean drugs.
Portland, Oregon decriminalized small amounts of drugs and the first year fatal overdoses increased 52% and to date, it had only increased the drug crisis issues. Vancouver will find out it will not work as well, while many more die because of their mistakes.
The people I personally dealt with in the encampment at the Civic Center were not the truly homeless, but were those that refused to go to a shelter because there are rules there that would impede their criminal activities.
They encamped there because it was their base of operations for many crimes , including prostitution, where John’s were seen been ‘serviced’ while the John was sitting in his car parking along the Civic Center track on 11th street. More than once I witnessed this!
There are the truly homeless and the criminals! The ones in the encampments increased crime in the area and impacted area neighbourhoods, businesses and organizations such as the LSCO, where in one example a young Indigenous was walking around high, naked saying my vagina is bleeding, loudly.
Other cities across North America are now enforcing encampment laws, loitering/vagrancy laws and unvoluntary addiction and mental health treatment programs.
If any other actions killed almost 4,000 people in Canad per year there would be a major response to end or lower it.
BC loses almost 200 lives per month because of their failed policies. Alberta loses just about 115 per month. Saskatchewan and Manitoba about 1/3. Sask only has 1 SCS and it isn’t government funded and Manitoba none . . . maybe there is something to thiss. Less SCS sites less fatal overdoses, less non-profits, less fatal overdoses!
In Lethbridge we see 70% to 80% Indigenous as homeless. Many Indigenous communities banish/kickoff their troublemakers and they end up on our streets to die. Where is the responsibility?
Mr. Weaselhead recently stated there are 72 houses boarded up on the Kainai reserve.
Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal . . . all have different reasons and demographics.
Calgary sees a higher number of oil patch workers and Edmonton, ex-military who got addicted from self-medicating to deal with PTSD.
Lethbridge has always had a high number of Indigenous who historically have addiction, violent crime, domestic violence, sexual abuse, etc., issues commonly found in any group that has high unemployment.
Indigenous gangs started fighting for territory on our streets in 2015 with several stabbings within weeks downtown. It only got worse from there!
The SCS destroyed our city and killed many downtown businesses and we have never being able to rid the city from the increased issues it brought, but Alpha House was like the SCS on steroids with lawlessness abounding within it’s borders.
Sometimes rules/laws are needed to not just protect the public but the people who die from these events. Too many have died!