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Colette Smithers is photographed in the doorway of her building, a three story housing complex in Calgary's mount royal neighbourhood. Smithers, has lived in the affordable housing for 6 months now since the women-only development was opened. Prior to her moving in she was in transitional housing offered through the YWCA. (Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail/Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail)
Colette Smithers is photographed in the doorway of her building, a three story housing complex in Calgary's mount royal neighbourhood. Smithers, has lived in the affordable housing for 6 months now since the women-only development was opened. Prior to her moving in she was in transitional housing offered through the YWCA. (Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail/Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail)

How paying people's way out of poverty can help us all Add to ...

More recent figures have backed them up when it comes to the costs of poverty: A study earlier this year from Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital found homeless patients cost hospitals an average of $2,559 more than their housed counterparts.

At the same time, research into projects that guaranteed people a minimum annual income indicated savings in everything from social services and health care to law enforcement.

Some see a solution in a 40-year-old experiment: In the 1970s, Manitoba wanted to see what would happen if it guaranteed poor people in a few communities a set annual income.

The results are striking, said University of Manitoba professor Evelyn Forget, who's now studying the program's effects.

The philosophy behind this is simple: People are more likely to stay in school, out of emergency rooms and out of jail; they contribute to the economy through their purchases; they're more likely to move eventually above the poverty line and pay taxes.

For years, Senator Segal has been campaigning for the country to implement something similar - replacing welfare programs by giving a top-up to bring low-income families above the poverty line.

The issue came to the fore in last month's election campaign, kind of: The parties squared off on a guaranteed income program for low-income seniors.

The irony is that Canada already scores high compared to other OECD countries when it comes to helping the elderly. Where it falls short is where it matters: The working-age poor - the ones who should be contributing to the economy.

"With respect to working-age poverty, our numbers are really bad," Mr. Segal said. "And that's where we need to do more."

"I don't think we should underestimate the uneven effect of this recession," said Anne Golden, CEO of the Conference Board of Canada. "The gap is growing. If the gap gets too big, that affects the quality of life for all of us."

By the numbers

$134,000

Estimated amount for emergency shelter, emergency hospital care, law enforcement and other social services for one homeless person in Calgary, for one year

$34,000

Estimated cost to proide supportive housing for one person in Calgary, for one year

$12,555

Average cost of hospital stay for non-homeless patient at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto

$15,114

Average cost of hospital stay for homeless patient at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto



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