Dear Pope Francis,
Hope you’re well and having a balanced summer of not too much work and some rest. You deserve it.
I heard a local city councillor in the radio this morning. He was talking about the upcoming municipal elections and how the business community was looking at endorsing a slate of candidates felt to be friendly to their interests. In principle, I don’t really have a problem with that. Businesses are the economic lifeblood of any community and they deserve to have their interests represented on city council as long as they are held in balance with the needs of other residents.
What I found distressing about this particular councillor’s comments was that he expressed concern about the amount of city money going into efforts to end homelessness. He questioned the city’s involvement in social housing, saying there is only so much tax money to go around, and it might be better spent on improving things for local businesses.
In my mind, this is not a helpful view of city residents as it comes from an outdated sense that there are different kinds of citizens. What the councillor seemed to be saying is that there are residents of the city who deserve tax dollars to be sent their way, and those who don’t.
This view is highly problematic as it does not take into account the complex interrelatedness of our society. In short, we are all one and what happens to one group affects another. Devoting tax dollars to providing housing options for all residents of the city does not mean taking away money from businesses. In fact, it might free up money. Like most urban centres around the world, we have a homeless population whose needs are unevenly met by local city services. Because these residents often have substance abuse, mental health challenges, or both, they are most often dealt with by local police, who spend time shuttling them from cells to the hospital in a never-ending cycle. A significant amount of police resources goes into doing this — resources that might not be necessary if adequate housing options were available. Lower policing costs could translate into lower business taxes or an increase in services.
Our economic systems also depend on the full participation of all residents. Providing stable housing for homeless residents increases the chance that they will be able to address any mental health or addiction issues, find stable employment, pay taxes –and buy products and services from local businesses. This is not wasted money; it will go back into the local economy, probably at a greater rate than taxes earmarked for other residents.
Separating out local residents into us versus them, deserving versus less-deserving, or business owner versus homeless is not only misguided, it is also economically problematic.