The Role of Living Wages in Ending Homelessness for Women

Submitted by Calgary on November 1, 2011 - 10:26am
Resource Type: Blog | Author: Vibrant Calgary

I recently offered to help a friend organize a fundraising event to build a home for an AIDS widow in Kenya. While putting up posters throughout my community, a woman working in one of the stores, inquired about the event. After my explanation she said, “You could build me a house. I live in a fifth wheel with no heat.”

For Homeless Awareness week this (Oct 10-17th, 2011) I wanted to write about the impact that a Living Wage can have on ending homelessness for women.

What is a Living Wage? A Living Wage is the amount of income an individual needs to: meet their basic needs (housing, transportation, food), maintain a safe, decent, and dignified standard of living, save for future needs and goals, and devote quality time to family, friends, and community. In Calgary a Living Wage is $12.25 per hour with benefits, or $13.50 per hour without benefits.

Women’s homelessness is often considered “hidden” because the numbers of women we see living on the streets or sleeping rough do not represent the actual number of women who do not have a safe, healthy, or permanent place to live. Women will often stay with friends or family (also known as “couching”), or sleep in their vehicles before they will sleep on the streets or stay in homeless shelters – especially women with children. Finally, many of the women who find themselves homeless are employed full-time, but only earning minimum wage. In fact, 66% of minimum wage earners in Alberta are women, and this is for full-time, full-year work.

Women who earn less than a Living Wage simply do not have enough money left after paying rent each month to afford the other basic necessities of life (healthy food, utilities, bills, transportation, childcare, expenses, financial emergencies, school fees, etc). One illness, vehicle breakdown, or unexpected expense can result in a woman becoming homeless.

Paying a Living Wage not only makes sense from a social justice and human rights perspective, but it also makes sense from an economic perspective. Employers who pay Living Wages attract more qualified employees, and experience improved staff morale and reduced turnover and absenteeism. As their income grows, employees are more likely to spend locally, which boosts the local economy. For a listing of which businesses in Calgary have committed to paying their employees a Living Wage, you can visit the Living Wage section of Vibrant Communities Calgary’s website.

My Call to Action is this. If you can make other choices regarding where you shop (even if that means paying a little more), please do. Ask your local businesses if they pay their employees a Living Wage. Phone or write to businesses that you know don’t pay living wages, and tell them why it matters to you.

I know that a lot of people shop in certain stores (that are notorious for paying less than living wages and for unethical buying and employee practices) because they have to; every penny counts and the prices at these stores are very low. The fault certainly does not lay with low income Albertans who are doing their best to survive in a province with a low minimum wage and a high cost of living. But I believe those of us who can make a statement with our dollar should do so. My challenge is for you to start being part of the solution instead of part of the problem. I, for one, never again want to support a business whose employees are living in fifth wheels with no heat.

From the Vibrant Calgary blog.