Cross Country Checkup

Can a national housing strategy solve homelessness in our cities?

The federal government has launched a national housing strategy — spending billions to get the homeless off the streets. Can a national housing strategy solve homelessness in our cities?
The federal government's new housing plan aims to cut chronic homelessness by 50 per cent in the next 10 years. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

Housing the homeless.

Tonight in Canada some will sleep in mansions, others will curl up in a cardboard box beneath a bridge.

It's a sad truth — some 235,000 Canadians will experience homelessness this year.

Many more are on the edge, living in social housing and afraid of losing it, living in apartments that are crumbling and cockroach-infested. According to CMHC, nearly one million households that are renting in Canada are in "core housing need," which means their homes are unsafe and unaffordable.
Host of Cross Country Checkup, Duncan McCue. (Kevin Van Paassen)
​Well, Ottawa can fix that, the prime minister declared this week. Housing rights are "human rights" he said as he unveiled his government's long-awaited national housing strategy.

It's a $40-billion, 10 year plan that pledges to tackle everything from homelessness, the shortage of new housing units, repairs to old ones and provide up to $2,500 in housing subsidies to vulnerable families every year.

Some hoped the housing strategy would provide relief in overheated urban housing markets, especially Toronto and Vancouver where rent and house prices have hit eye-popping levels.

But the government says it's targeting those most in need — low-income families, Indigenous people, single-mothers. It wants to cut in half the number of people using temporary shelters and do a better job of tracking how many homeless actually get homes.

Many mayors and housing advocates cheered Ottawa's move to reduce homelessness by getting back into the social housing game. Others say it may be mind-bending amounts of funding, but spread over a decade and across the entire country — much of it after the next federal election — it's too little, too late.

Is it possible for governments to solve homelessness without addiction and mental health solutions as well? Will it encourage a Housing First approach to get people off the streets instead of business as usual? First Nation housing needs are acute yet the government is still working on its Indigenous housing strategy — is that the right response?

Our question: Can a national housing strategy solve homelessness in our cities?


Jenny Gerbasi, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, deputy mayor of the City of Winnipeg and councillor of the ward of Fort Rouge East Fort Garry

Jeanette Waegemakers Schiff,  professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary, and the author of Working with Homeless and Vulnerable People

Bernie Pauly, associate professor in the University of Victoria School of Nursing, and works with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness

Eric Weissman, teacher of sociology in the Humanities & Social Sciences program at Red Deer College, Alta., and author of Tranquility of the Razor's Edge: Changing Narratives of Inevitability and Dignity in Exile — Stories of Struggle and Hope from a Modern American Shantytown

What we're reading

Globe and Mail

National Post


Toronto Star

Vancouver Sun

The Province

Homeless Hub

The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016