New federal homelessness funds mark 'significant change,' advocates say

The federal government announced plans for a redesigned strategy to fight homelessness on Monday, which local advocates say signals a long-term commitment to getting people off the streets.

Cities working to get homeless Canadians off streets will get more money, fewer spending restrictions

The new federal plan comes after months of consultation with people who are working to combat homelessness. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The federal government announced plans for a redesigned strategy to fight chronic homelessness on Monday, which New Brunswick advocates say signals a long-term commitment to getting people off the streets.

Under the revamped strategy, redubbed "Reaching Home," the Liberals will give cities $2.1 billion over 10 years, with fewer spending restrictions to reduce homelessness — so long as they meet Ottawa's goal of cutting their numbers in half.

This marks the most significant change in homelessness funding since it was first announced in 1999, said Darcy Cormier, community development co-ordinator for the Greater Moncton Homelessness Steering Committee.

"Over the years we've seen a few agreements of three years, four years, a year, five years," Cormier told Information Morning Moncton on Tuesday. "We were always wondering if the program would keep going. So this is a 10-year commitment.

"And doubling the total amount of funding across the country. So it means keeping 61 communities that always received the funding, and increasing the amount of communities that can access it."

You have to be optimistic. We haven't had anything like this come through in years.- Darcy Cormier

Chronically homeless people make up a small number in the overall homeless population, but they are among the heaviest users of emergency shelters.

"So if they can become stable, it frees up services and resources for other individuals," Cormier said.

The changes are also expected to allow money to be spent on projects that are outside the "Housing First" mandate, a doctrine that stipulates governments find housing and services for people right away, rather than requiring them to seek employment and treatment first.

That was one of the surprises for front-line workers, said Greg Bishop, a project manager with the Human Development Council in Saint John.

Housing First target gone

Greg Bishop, project manager with the Human Development Council in Saint John, will miss the Housing First program but generally is optimistic about the federal plan. (CBC)

Before, it was required that 40 per cent of a community's allocation go toward Housing First ideas. Now that target is no longer being set.

"They're leaving it to communities to determine what percentage of funds should be used for Housing First," Bishop told Information Morning Saint John.

"I would have advocated for the continuance of Housing First. The target was nice, the funding amount we knew at minimum would be 40 per cent. Now it's added to the conversation as communities determine how it wants to use the funds."

However, Bishop said communities will be given more flexibility to determine their priorities under this framework.

Sees realistic goal

He said the goal of reducing chronic homelessness by 50 per cent is "very doable" in the city.

"It's a relatively small population in Saint John, and the province is interested in taking on that same goal, and I think it's something that can be accomplished," he said.

"The details of the announcement are very much in line with the work that's happening in Saint John. And having a 10-year commitment allows us to set goals we know can last. So we're pretty pleased."

The revamped program also introduces measures such as the building of co-ordinated systems and real-time data collection.

A one-stop shop

Cormier said much of that work is already happening in Moncton, moving the city ahead of the game.

It created a housing assessment review team with representation from housing agencies, the two shelters and main outreach groups in the city.

The group meets regularly to review applications and figure out the best housing opportunities for people.

"They don't have to go all over the city applying everywhere, it's a one-stop shop," she said.

"But they do still end up on a waiting list. We have way more intake that we do have people housed. We don't have enough housing for sure."

Greg Bishop is a project manager with the Human Development Council in Saint John. The money will support 'housing first' and other programs to end chronic homelessness. 9:50

The new Reaching Home model is the latest in a series of steps the federal Liberals have taken since targeting the poor, including the 10-year, $40-billion national housing strategy announced late last year.

In Moncton, 39 people were housed out of 160 "intakes" in 2017, with more names added to the waiting list since that data was recorded.

Cormier hopes the overarching housing plan will increase the amount of long-term housing in the city.

"You have to be optimistic," she said. "We haven't had anything like this come through in years."

Corrections

  • The caption for a photograph in an earlier version of the story incorrectly identified Darcy Cormier as the subject. In fact, it was a photograph of Roxanne Rupps.
    Jun 12, 2018 5:19 PM AT

With files from Information Morning Saint John, Information Morning Moncton