Hamilton hopes to grab attention for homeless funding

Hamilton councillors hope to make a scene over the next month or so regarding provincial cuts they say will cause more city residents to be homeless.

Hamilton councillors hope to make a scene over the next month regarding provincial cuts they say will cause more city residents to be homeless.

Council voted Wednesday to try to book the media room at Queen's Park to draw attention to Ontario-wide cuts to homelessness initiatives. It hopes for a splashy media event that will lead to more awareness of what the cuts will do.

"Right now, it's just a sanitized statistical number at Queen's Park," said Coun. Brad Clark of Stoney Creek. "It takes someone with the courage to speak up strongly."

The city is grappling with deep cuts to its 2013 Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit. Within the benefit are several programs, including:

  • the Consolidated Homelessness Prevention Program, which helps people get and stay in housing
  • the Domiciliary Hostel Program, which helps low-income people stay in residential care facilites
  • the Emergency Energy Fund, which gives grants for utility arrears
  • emergency hostels for the homeless
  • the Provincial Rent Bank, which helps people get caught up on their rent

These programs currently cost a total of $22,764,060. But the government has consolidated all of them into one funding envelope and is providing $15,014,060. That's a shortfall of about $7.2 million. The city can fund some of it using the city's tax levy, but there is still a funding gap of about $3.5 million.

'We are in a very serious pinch here.'— Coun. Jason Farr

The city's emergency and community services committee voted last week to use $3,351,080 from the Community Services department surplus, the 2013 corporate surplus and the tax stabilization reserve.

But councillors voted Wednesday to hold off on that. Instead, Joe-Ann Priel, general manager of Community Services, will come back with potential programs that can be offered for $500,000 and up. And council will use that time to try to make some noise.

Mayor Bob Bratina will ask to meet with John Milloy, Minister of Community and Social Services, to ask that the funding be reinstated. But Clark said that meeting with individual ministers often doesn't do anything.

The city needs to request a "Hamilton day" at Queen's Park, get access to the media rooms, and "invite people supporting us and say 'enough is enough,'" he said.

Council will revisit the issue in one month. With funding stopping on Dec. 31, the issue is urgent, Coun. Sam Merulla said.

"We clearly heard a committee that there is a sense of urgency where literally, people will become homeless if we don't act," he said.

Coun. Jason Farr called the issue "downright scary.

"We are in a very serious pinch here."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca