Cities urge Lib­er­als to cut red tape

Also call for re­vamped fund­ing needed for key home­less strat­egy


OT­TAWA — Cities strug­gling to house their home­less are ask­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to re­think its cor­ner­stone home­less­ness pro­gram amid con­cerns about bur­den­some re­port­ing re­quire­ments and in­ad­e­quate fund­ing.

an in­ter­nal gov­ern­ment re­port calls for the so-called home­less­ness Part­ner­ing strat­egy to pro­vide dif­fer­ent lev­els of fund­ing to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, which must house peo­ple over vast ar­eas, and to ur­ban cen­tres strug­gling with sky­rock­et­ing real es­tate prices.

the is­sue of red tape bog­ging down the fund­ing also came up re­peat­edly in meet­ings last year that were de­tailed in a brief­ing note to a se­nior of­fi­cial at em­ploy­ment and so­cial devel­op­ment Canada.

Cities asked the gov­ern­ment to sim­plify re­port­ing re­quire­ments about how money was be­ing used, or pro­vide ex­tra cash to cover ad­min­is­tra­tive costs, said the note, ob­tained by the Cana­dian Press un­der the ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion act.

the home­less­ness strat­egy isn’t up for re­newal un­til 2019, but so­cial devel­op­ment Min­is­ter Jean-yves du­c­los has asked of­fi­cials to be­gin work now in order to have it ready sooner, said spokesman Mathieu Fil­ion.

those in the anti-poverty sec­tor ex­pect fund­ing will stay the same un­der the re­vamped strat­egy, which will likely em­pha­size preven­tion, some­thing ex­perts have pro­moted dur­ing the Lib­er­als’ time in of­fice.

a sep­a­rate brief­ing note to du­c­los sug­gests that of­fi­cials wanted the strat­egy to help fund clin­i­cal sup­ports for so-called “hous­ing first” clients, in­clud­ing teams of doc­tors, nurses, psy­chi­a­trists and sub­stance abuse spe­cial­ists.

the fed­eral gov­ern­ment can’t di­rectly fund such sup­ports be­cause they fall un­der provin­cial ju­ris­dic­tion.

the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s first bud­get in 2016 set aside $111.8 mil­lion over two years for the strat­egy to give cities more flex­i­bil­ity in bat­tling home­less­ness.

those mu­nic­i­pal strate­gies will be re­shaped next year fol­low­ing the sec­ond fed­er­ally or­ga­nized point-in-time count of the home­less pop­u­la­tion in 59 cities, up from 32 that took part in the first count last year.

an in­ter­nal gov­ern­ment re­port says some cities had prob­lems spend­ing the 2016 money dur­ing the last fis­cal pe­riod, which ended in March, be­cause the cash wasn’t avail­able at the start of the fis­cal year.

at a mid-year meet­ing about the money, cities big and small told fed­eral of­fi­cials that the strat­egy’s fo­cus on “hous­ing first” — find hous­ing and ser­vices for peo­ple right away, rather than re­quir­ing them to seek treat­ment first — was be­com­ing more dif­fi­cult to meet.

Larger ur­ban cen­tres re­ported that a lack of avail­able af­ford­able hous­ing op­tions, in­clud­ing mar­ket rental units, was a ma­jor hin­drance. in ru­ral and re­mote com­mu­ni­ties, the chal­lenge was hous­ing peo­ple over large ge­o­graphic ar­eas.

Fund­ing was also a prob­lem in abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties.

indige­nous lead­ers said the “hous­ing first” ap­proach didn’t rec­og­nize the unique needs of their com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing the need for multi-gen­er­a­tional hous­ing and com­mu­nal homes.

Jenny ger­basi, pres­i­dent of the Fed­er­a­tion of Cana­dian Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, said the re­port il­lus­trates the chal­lenges with the fed­eral strat­egy, which is also likely to play a key role in the na­tional hous­ing strat­egy the Lib­er­als will re­lease later this year.

Cities need to be given the max­i­mum flex­i­bil­ity needed to use fed­eral funds on lo­cal needs, in­clud­ing de­cid­ing the ex­tent to which they de­liver pro­grams with a “hous­ing first” ap­proach, ger­basi said.

three decades af­ter the ap­proach was first in­tro­duced, an in­ter­na­tional body of re­search sug­gests it works. in 2008, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment funded the largest such study — a five-year ex­am­i­na­tion of more than 2,200 pre­vi­ously home­less peo­ple across five cities.

it found those who re­ceived “hous­ing first” help re­tained hous­ing at much higher rates than those who re­ceived what in­ves­ti­ga­tors called “treat­ment as usual,” and scored higher on mea­sures of qual­ity of life.

as a re­sult of the study, “hous­ing first” be­came a fo­cus of the home­less­nessPart­ner­ingstrat­egy. a fol­low-up study last year found a sig­nif­i­cant gap be­tween cur­rent fed­eral and provin­cial fund­ing and what was pro­vided in the orig­i­nal study pe­riod.


A woman walks past a man sleep­ing on the street in the Down­town East­side of Van­cou­ver, B.C., in Fe­bru­ary. Cities strug­gling to house their home­less are ask­ing the fed­eral Lib­er­als to re­think the gov­ern­ment’s cor­ner­stone home­less­ness pro­gram.

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