03/30/2015 10:15 EDT | Updated 05/30/2015 05:59 EDT

Ontario puts $587 million toward goal of ending homelessness

TORONTO - Ontario municipalities will be getting more than half a billion dollars from the province to help people and families at risk of homelessness.

The provincial government has announced funding of $587 million over two years for services such as emergency shelters, financial assistance to prevent eviction, transitional housing and food banks.

Toronto will receive more than one-third of the funding, as the province notes it is the most populous city in Ontario with "a large and diverse number of families and individuals at risk of homelessness."

The money — a continuation of the previous year's funding — is part of the Liberal government's lofty goal of ending homelessness.

The initiative, which comes with no target date, was launched after the Ontario government failed to meet a five-year target of reducing child poverty by 25 per cent, laying the blame at the feet of the federal government.

The Liberals promised in 2008 to lift 90,000 children out of poverty within the next five years by providing increased benefits for low-income families and improved public education programs.

An expert panel is in the midst of trying to quantify homelessness in Ontario, said Deb Matthews, the minister responsible for the poverty reduction strategy.

"When are we going to achieve the goal of ending homelessness? We don't know the answer to that," she said. "I'll be honest with you, I don't want to put out a date when we don't know the scope of the problem yet, but we're working on it."

The NDP said that since the municipalities get the same amount of money as in the previous year, with inflation factored in it is actually a funding cut.

"All they did was announce that they're holding the line on funding for homelessness programs," said party leader Andrea Horwath. "It doesn't seem to me that that's any kind of announcement whatsoever."

Matthews said municipalities now have more flexibility to use these funds.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said half a million dollars in the lead.