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Examining the state of public policy on homelessness in Canada

Photo: Homeless Hub/flickr

Last week, I gave a presentation on public policy responding to homelessness in Canada, with a focus on the past decade. I gave the presentation at this year's annual conference of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association.

Points I made in the presentation include the following:

-  Once inflation is accounted for, the current annual value of federal funding for homelessness programming (now known as the Homelessness Partnering Strategy) has eroded to roughly 36 per cent of its original value (that is, its value in 1999 when it was known as the National Homelessness Initiative).

-  In recent years, it has become trendy for senior levels of government in Canada to espouse the 'housing first' philosophy when it comes to responding to homelessness. This means that they say they believe that homeless persons should be provided with permanent housing as soon as such housing can be provided (as opposed to believing that such housing should be provided only once a homeless person 'rehabilitates'). The 'housing first' approach is generally viewed as being a socially progressive approach, in part because this has not always been the philosophy espoused by senior levels of government. However, the same governments that are now espousing their belief in this philosophy are not providing enough subsidized housing for every homeless person to receive said housing. In other words, when it comes to the provision of permanent housing for homeless persons, senior levels of government are providing some permanent housing to some homeless persons. To others, they are saying: "We would if we could, but we can't."

-  I would argue that, because senior levels of government are not providing permanent housing to all homeless persons who require it, emergency shelters in Canada are often very crowded. On any given night and in many Canadian municipalities, it is common for most emergency shelters to be full, meaning that staff at those emergency shelters turn homeless persons away (or refer them to other emergency shelters). This happens regularly.

-  With Canada's aging population, homelessness amongst seniors appears to be rising. In Toronto, the number of homeless persons over the age of 65 more than doubled between 2006 and 2013.

-  Within the next six months, it is likely that final results of a major homelessness study will be released. This $110 million random control study -- funded (but not designed) by the Harper government -- looks at the effectiveness of providing homeless persons with mental health problems with immediate access to supportive housing (that is, subsidized housing that includes social work support). It is expected that results of this study will lend further support to the 'housing first' principle, and may encourage senior levels of government to fund more supportive housing for homeless persons.

My slides from the presentation can be downloaded here.

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