In North American cities like New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto and countless others, we have grown accustomed to seeing people who are homeless walk among us, often in the shadows, often with visible signs of duress from addiction, mental illness or basic hopelessness. Simply put, we've become desensitized to the everyday experiences of persons visibly homeless in our cities and communities.
(Photo: Andy Clark/Reuters)
There is also little difference in cities in Europe or Australia that share North America's inability to address chronic homelessness through policy, programs or funding that offer long-term solutions to improve well-being and improve housing stability.
But change is possible.
Budget 2017 earmarked a whopping $11 billion for housing and homelessness across the country. There's no doubt this will have a big impact. However, these funds must not only build affordable housing, they must align with poverty reduction strategies and mental health and recovery initiatives currently underway if we are to truly reduce long-term homelessness.
A meaningful impact requires funding a broad range of supports to ensure fewer Canadians are among the estimated 35,000 who have no place to call home on any given night. Perhaps this historic funding and the pending release of the National Housing Strategy (NHS) give reason for hope.
It's important to consider where we have come from.
This vision is a good start, but it needs to ensure that no Canadian is left behind.
There is little doubt this federal investment will change lives simply by reinvesting in a depleted affordable housing stock that, from a national standpoint, has had little attention since the 1990s. This is the same period when Canada's homeless population increased rapidly in cities that failed to address the root causes of poverty and homelessness.
Why did earlier programs fail?
By not considering the root causes, we too often took a narrow approach to homelessness such as building shelters but not investing in ancillary services. The preliminary vision of the NHS is that all Canadians have access to housing that "meets their needs and they can afford" with housing described as "the cornerstone" of inclusive and economically prosperous communities. This vision is a good start, but it needs to ensure that no Canadian is left behind -- especially those struggling with chronic homelessness.
There is a successful model for tackling homelessness.
In the At Home/Chez Soi (AHCS) project that examined mental health and homelessness in Canada, we followed 2150 people over a period of six years (2008-2014). By working to bring together a range of supports and housing, we ended homelessness for a significant number of persons previously struggling with health and shelter needs. This landmark study pioneered the AHCS Housing First model in Canada which expanded from the original five cities to more than 60.
This proven intervention has also become the global standard for supporting persons struggling with mental illness and homelessness as hundreds of cities in multiple countries have now followed the evidence.
Why are we slow to end homelessness?
We have done a good job with new policies and organizations tasked with "ending homelessness" in Canada -- but strongly worded plans have often been weakly supported with money and resources.
Let's not forget that the erosion of the welfare state, austerity measures, deinstitutionalization, increased globalization and the growing wage gap that so profoundly raised the level of income inequality in Canada have all increased homelessness and poverty in our country.
Let's use this investment not only for housing, but also to improve health, end poverty and put us on the path to reconciliation.
Indigenous Canadians also remain disproportionately represented among the homeless population. We know that the impacts of colonization, residential schools and interactions with child and family services have greatly influenced the present circumstances of indigenous communities. These are deep wounds we bear as Canadians. Let us acknowledge that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission provided "the calls to action to advance reconciliation in Canada."
Where do we go from here?
$11 billion dollars can go a long way toward healing the lives of those most in need in Canada. With these funds and a strong National Housing Strategy we can make change happen.
Let's not allow shifting political winds globally toward austerity to derail our efforts to be forward thinking and caring. We have evidence and no lack of effort. So let's use this investment not only for housing, but also to improve health, end poverty and put us on the path to reconciliation. Let's end homelessness, one Canadian at a time.
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Highlights from the 2017 federal budget tabled Wednesday, March 22 by Finance Minister Bill Morneau: (Source: The Canadian Press)
Employment insurance premiums are going up five cents to $1.68 per every $100 of insurable earnings, up from $1.63 — the maximum allowable increase under the Employment Insurance Act. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The deficit is at $23 billion, down from $25.1 billion in the last fiscal update, and is projected to reach $28.5 billion for 2017-18 — including a $3 billion contingency fund — before declining to $18.8 billion in 2021-22. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The 71-year-old Canada Savings Bond program, first established in 1946, is no longer cost effective and is being phased out. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
Higher taxes on alcohol and tobacco products: the excise duty rate on cigarettes goes up to $21.56 per carton of smokes from $21.03, while the rates on alcohol are going up two per cent. Both will be adjusted every April 1 starting next year, based on the consumer price index. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The public transit tax credit, which allows the cost of transit passes to be deducted, is being eliminated effective July 1. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The budget dedicates $11.2 billion to cities and provinces for affordable housing over 10 years as part of the second wave of the government's infrastructure program, $5 billion of which is to encourage housing providers to pool their resources with private partners to pay for new projects. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
An "innovation and skills plan'' to foster high-tech growth in six sectors: advanced manufacturing, agri-food, clean technology, digital industries, health/bio-sciences and clean resources Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$523.9 million over five years to prevent tax evasion and improve tax compliance, including more auditors, a crackdown on high-risk avoidance cases and better investigative efforts. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$7 billion in spending over 10 years for Canadian families, including 40,000 new subsidized daycare spaces across Canada by 2019, extended parental leave and allowing expectant mothers to claim maternity benefits 12 weeks before their due date. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$2.7 billion over six years for labour market transfer agreements with the provinces and territories to modernize training and job supports, to help those looking for work to upgrade skills, gain experience, start a business or get employment counselling. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$59.8 million over four years, beginning in 2018-19, to make student loans and grants more readily available for part-time students, and $107.4 million over the same period for assist students with dependent children. $287.2 million over three years, starting in 2018-19, for a pilot project to facilitate adult-student access to student loans and grants. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
A national database of all housing properties in Canada, known as the Housing Statistics Framework, to track details on purchases, sales, demographics and financing, as well as foreign ownership. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$400 million over three years through the Business Development Bank of Canada for a "venture capital catalyst initiative'' to make more venture capital available to Canadian entrepreneurs. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
A comprehensive spending review of "at least three federal departments,'' to be named later, to eliminate waste and inefficiencies, as well as a three-year review of federal assets and an audit of existing innovation and clean-tech programs. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$225 million over four years, starting in 2018-19, for a new organization to support skills development and measurement. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$395.5 million over three years for the youth employment strategy. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
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