Homelessness in Calgary is going corporate
A group of Calgary movers and shakers including CEOs from TransCanada, Suncor, Canadian Pacific, the Calgary Flames and Imperial Oil are redefining the traditional model of faith-based homeless advocacy groups to create the Calgary Committee to End Homelessness. The committee promises to join corporate, municipal, faith-based and non-profit interests with the provincial and federal government to do what various groups could not do alone: provide a real solution to reduce homelessness on Calgary's streets and eventually eliminate it all together.
According to the committee, a 10-year plan for this near- miraculous feat will be complete in 18 months, and with the May 2006 biennial count of homelessness in Calgary topping 3,400, it is definitely time for Calgary to employ new strategies to address an ever-expanding problem.
Some might question the motives behind corporate involvement in such a project. From a big business perspective, panhandlers are a nuisance for suits who are bothered for spare change on a daily basis during the walk to and from work. The thousands of homeless residing downtown not only make Calgarys' streets look bad, they also pose a security threat--whether real or imagined--for downtown workers. Corporate leaders may also be motivated to join the committee to meet their corporate responsibility requirements and to boost their companies' good-guy images.
Motivation for big business involvement in homelessness advocacy is likely different than faith-based or non-profit groups, who genuinely want to make society a better place for all, but questions of motivation are beside the point. If the committee makes a difference where others have failed, businesses leaders should be commended for their efforts.
Big business involvement in homeless advocacy has an added bonus: political clout. As terrible as it is, the reality is that homeless people are virtually invisible to government. The homeless don't pay taxes, they don't vote and they lack the social capital that corporations can bring to the table on their behalf. It's quite easy for government to ignore the plight of Calgary's working poor and homeless when powerful upper- and middle-class baby boomers are clamouring for an improved heath care system and tax breaks, but it will be impossible for the government to ignore powerful CEOs.
The goal of totally eliminating homelessness in Calgary seems impossible at this point. But a committee which combines business sense and political sway with the social conscience and knowledge of faith-based and non-profit groups seems to be the best strategy to achieve the impossible.