December 17, 2011

Too much paper keeps people homeless

If you are homeless in Vancouver and you want to live in public housing, there is a paper wall to keep you out:

  • The basic application form is 13 pages long.
  • The additional form required of those who have been homeless is 9 pages long.
  • And then you must complete a form for each individual housing project that you might live in.
  • Supplemental forms like an application for a copy of a birth certificate.

Picture a destitute family about to lose their housing. Someone in the family must be calm and collected and literate enough to fill out 2 of the forms above. The 2nd form must be completed for each of the housing projects they might qualify for.

Picture a destitute person who has been sleeping under a bridge for month or years. She must complete all three sets of forms–while she is anxious, hungry, and weary.

You see the wall there?

Have you heard of situational limited literacy? That’s when the context or the circumstances are so stressful or overwhelming that whatever literacy skills you have had in the past, they are not available to you in the present moment.

Since so few people get over that wall, a local group has formed for the purpose of documenting the homeless in their neighborhood and completing the application forms.

I have not seen these forms so I can’t tell you whether they are in plain language but I would say the odds are against it.

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