New Brunswick

How federal parties plan to tackle homelessness, and what N.B. experts think could work

All four of the country's main political parties have taking stances on how they'll combat homelessness. Here's what those parties say they'll do, along with experts' thoughts on what should be done to solve the issue in New Brunswick.

More affordable housing units, better funding for shelter groups, universal basic income pitched as solutions

Homelessness has become more visible in New Brunswick in recent years, with tent encampments popping up in cities, such as this one in Fredericton. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC News file photo)

With tent encampments springing up in cities like Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John in recent years, homelessness has become difficult to ignore in New Brunswick.

And as cities in other provinces grapple with the same phenomenon, homelessness is now being addressed by federal parties as they pitch Canadians on how they plan to lead the country.

Three parties that have already released campaign platforms have included specific details about stamping out homelessness, and a fourth has indicated it will be a priority if they form government after the Sept. 20 election.

Meanwhile, experts in academia and the shelter system in New Brunswick agree the next federal government will have to play a significant role in addressing homelessness, and it's going to require building more affordable housing and providing steady funding for the organizations aimed at keeping people off the streets.

"This is a housing crisis that is 30 years in the making, and that will go on for quite some time in the absence of concerted government action from all levels of government to plug holes and fill gaps," said Matthew Hayes, professor of sociology at St. Thomas University in Fredericton.

Mathew Hayes, professor of sociology at St. Thomas University, said the next federal government needs to take a more aggressive approach to building affordable housing. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Here's what the parties have said about their plan to combat homelessness.

Liberal Party:

The party's platform lumps a commitment to ending chronic homelessness with other housing priorities such as making it easier for people to buy homes, building more homes and protecting the rights of renters and homeowners.

In an email, Liberal Party spokesperson Alex Deslongchamps pointed to what the party did in its last term, such as spending more than $70 billion in a National Housing Strategy to support the construction of up to 125,000 affordable homes.

Deslongchamps said since the strategy was launched, the Liberals committed to build 63,000 units of affordable housing and repair 126,000 units of existing community housing.

He also pointed to the Rapid Housing Initiative, aimed, he said, at addressing urgent housing needs for vulnerable Canadians. Deslongchamps said that while in power, the Liberals committed an additional $1.5 million to the already $1-billion program.

Conservative Party:

The party, in its platform, outlined four priorities it has for addressing homelessness, which include:

  • Re-implementing the "housing first" approach to aid in the fight against Canada's addictions crisis.
  • Revising the federal government's substance abuse policy framework to make recovery its overarching goal.
  • Investing $325 million over three years to create 1,000 residential drug treatment beds and build 50 recovery community centres across the country.
  • Supporting approaches to addressing the crises of mental health challenges and addiction, such as land-based treatment programs developed and managed by Indigenous communities.

The Conservative Party's platform also says it would implement a plan to build a million homes in the next three years to tackle Canada's "housing crisis."

New Democratic Party:

In its platform, the New Democratic Party says a core component of its goal to ending poverty in Canada is to fully implement a "right to housing" strategy, with a goal of ending homelessness within 10 years.

The party says its affordable housing strategy will include measures to support Canadians at risk of becoming homeless, and to help people find affordable housing in the long-term, along with the creation of more social housing.

The party also says that to deliver help to those most vulnerable right away, it will work with provinces and municipalities to fast-track the purchase, lease and conversion of hotels and motels for emergency housing relief until more permanent community-based solutions are available.

Green Party:

The Green Party hasn't yet released its platform, but spokesperson Rosie Emery pointed to statements the party made earlier this year, calling on the government to:

  • Recognize housing unaffordability and homelessness as twin national crises. 
  • Redefine affordable housing using an updated formula enhance the Canada Housing Benefit.
  • Strengthen regulation of foreign investment in residential real estate.
  • Create an "empty home" tax for foreign and corporate residential property owners who leave buildings and units vacant. 
  • Prioritize funding for non-profit and cooperative housing.

More aggressive housing strategy needed

Hayes said after the Second World War, the federal government took an aggressive approach to constructing affordable housing.

That, however, stopped in the 1980's, and has led to a shortage in affordable housing, he said.

And while the federal government reintroduced a national housing strategy in 2018 to combat homelessness, he said it's not as aggressive as previous strategies seen before the 1970's.

"The national housing strategy now is by comparison, very, very timid relative to what it used to be. And so that has left a gap for people who are on low income," Hayes said.

"So as people are experiencing vulnerability, they're also doing so in a context in which there are very few affordable housing options, and some more of those people are finding themselves in situations of homelessness."

Steady funding for homeless shelters

Warren Maddox, executive director of Fredericton Homeless Shelters Inc., said he's seen the number of homeless people in the capital city increase in recent years.

This summer, he estimates there are about 60 living in shelters, and about 40 living in tents and other places outdoors.

Warren Maddox, the executive director of Fredericton Homeless Shelters, said he'd like to see the next federal government provide more consistent funding to organizations like his. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

From what he's observed from trying to house people in permanent accommodations, he said there's a shortage of apartments of all sizes in the city, which needs to be addressed through the creation of more affordable housing.

He also thinks better lines of communication need to be struck between the federal government and the province and municipalities for steady funding for organizations like the one he runs.

"Most of the shelters... in Canada now are housing-focused shelters so we're working on support, we're working on connections, we're working on mental health issues. We're working on addiction issues," Maddox said.

"So we're a lot more than just beds and heads — it's a much more involved thing, so having sort of that core... operational funding from the federal government would be wonderful."

Implementing universal basic income

A universal basic income is a tool that's been piloted in parts of Canada with results suggesting it helps lift recipients out of poverty and makes them healthier.

And a universal basic income could be the solution to homelessness by giving thousands of families a leg up, and cutting down on the proportion of income they must spend on their rent, said Eric Weissman, a professor at the University of New Brunswick Saint John who focuses on homelessness, housing and social policy.

Implementing a universal basic income could combat homelessness by helping lift people out of poverty and be able to spend a small proportion of their income on rent every month, said Eric Weissman, professor at the University of New Brunswick Saint John specializing in homelessness and social policy. (Submitted by Eric Weissman)

"Also, for some people, it'll provide them the money they need to put a down payment on a home," Weissman said.

"So I think [universal basic income] across the board is a great idea."

Weissman also thinks the next federal government needs to focus on building more apartments that are affordable to people specific to where they live.

"The solution is building units, nice units, respectable units where people want to live, that are affordable to them, or providing it to them at no cost.

"I mean, this is, we live in a country that has more than enough wealth to build socially supported housing."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aidan Cox

Web reporter/editor

Aidan Cox is a web writer for the CBC based in Fredericton. He can be reached at aidan.cox@cbc.ca and followed on Twitter @Aidan4jrn.

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