Tag Archive for Canada

In Canada, the Government’s Highly Successful Five-year Housing-first Strategy for the Homeless Has Just Been Extended Until 2019

Homeless person in a bus shelter at York and W...

Homeless person in a bus shelter at York and Wellington Streets, downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Experts on homelessness are giving the Canadian federal government credit for utilizing the right approach to helping some of the most vulnerable people in Canada. Ottawa just extended its Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) until 2019 with $119 million per year in new funding.

Dr. Stephen Hwang, a scientist and homelessness researcher at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, said:

They are to be applauded for moving to a housing-first approach, which is evidence-based. It’s wonderful that the federal government decided to renew the federal homelessness initiative for another five years.

For the next half-decade, Employment and Social Development Canada will concentrate funding on programs that take the housing-first approach to mentally ill and addicted people living on the street. A $110 million, 2008 to 2013 research project led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada showed how getting the most visible and notorious homeless people into permanent housing first leads to greater success down the road treating addictions and mental illness and keeping people off the streets.

Toronto’s Streets to Homes program has moved about 4,000 people into their own apartments since 2005 using a housing-first model. Eighty% of Streets to Homes’ clients remained in their new homes at least 12 months. Edmonton’s housing-first initiatives cut that city’s street population by 20% between 2008 and 2010.

The government expects that 65% of funding to Canada’s 10 largest cities will be spent on housing-first projects. Smaller cities will have to come up with housing-first initiatives for about 40% of their funding and tural communities will have no housing-first requirement.

Since the launch of the HPS in 2007, the government has approved more than $745 million for projects to prevent and reduce homelessness across Canada.

A 2009 poll found that approximately one in nine Canadian adults, or close to three million people, reported that they have either experienced or come close to experiencing homelessness Rates were highest among respondents with income levels less than $40,000 a year (20%) and those 45 to 55 years of age (16%).

In 2010, the number of households on affordable-housing waiting lists was at an all-time high of 141,635 across Ontario, up almost 10% in a year.

Between 2007 and 2011, almost $55 million in federal homelessness funding was invested in 317 projects which directly focused on youth and young adults between 15 and 30 years of age.

Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership is helping reduce, prevent and end youth homelessness in Saskatoon by administering HPS and investing more than $1 million per year into projects targeting street youngsters.

Covenant House Vancouver’s Crisis Shelter program provides street youth a safe place to stay, food, medical attention and the opportunity to develop a plan to move away from the streets and into a better life.  In January 2010, 32 new beds opened, bringing shelter capacity to 54 beds. The expansion was funded in part by an $800,000 contribution from the Canadian government through HPS.

However, Catholic agencies that deal directly with mentally ill and addicted street people warn that HPS is no silver bullet, and that federal focus on it may neglect other useful tools in fighting homelessness.

At Good Shepherd Ministries in downtown Toronto, assistant executive director Aklilu Wendaferew looks forward to applying for HPS funding and believes that approach can work, but he warns against thinking we now have a cure for homelessness.

Wendaferew said:

Just relying on one single approach to the problem wouldn’t be wise. Depending on the circumstances, you may have to adopt a number of approaches. Mental health is an issue. Addiction is an issue. And poverty in general is a serious problem.

When the huge North American recession hit at the end of 2008, the numbers of people sleeping in Canadian shelters and dropping in for meals both spiked. This was not a mental health problem but was due mainly to loss of income and poverty.

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It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing About Homelessness in Canada

There is a very interesting study that was recently released in Canada. The findings may provide some insight into the issues of homelessness we face here in the US.

The substantive report (150 pages of it) analyzed the costs of homelessness, including oft-forgotten peripherals like emergency medical expenses and policing. It then compared them to the cost of implementing services and programs designed to combat the problem.

Via The Vancouver Sun:

The estimated annual cost of $55,000 per homeless person takes into consideration the high risk of infectious diseases. The study says some individuals can be slow to accept treatment because they don’t recognize their mental illness, and may circulate through the court system because of a need to get drugs and food.

The study argues that if housing and support were offered to these people, it would cost the system much less – just $37,000 a year.

The report calculated that a capital investment of $784 million is needed to provide adequate housing to the 11,750 homeless people, and a further $148 million per year is required for housing-related support services.

But the study argues that after removing what the province is paying for health care, jail and shelters, and by spreading the capital costs out over several years, taxpayers could ultimately stand to save nearly $33 million annually.

The interesting part is how well these findings complement the research already done on juvenile incarceration and the incarceration of women. In our documentary, It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing, we examined the fiscal and societal gains that can be attained by implementing rehabilitative programs. They are substantive and invite and obvious parallel to the Canadian study’s findings on homelessness.

Another common thread between the two subjects is the recurrence of mental illness and substance abuse as part of the equation. These factors, if not addressed, tend to spiral out of control. Those subject to them can find themselves on a downward path that can be counteracted with the correct therapy and support programs. (On a personal note I know two people who used programs like that to get a grip on things while fighting those battles. They are now well-respected professionals in our community.)

I don’t know of any studies of this nature going on stateside, but it might be worthwhile to encourage it. Our own look at similar fiscal waste, and the human impact it has, was presented in the documentary It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing.

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Crumbs For The Future – Murder Victim’s Mother Speaks Out Against Mandatory Sentencing

Canada“How can we afford to focus so many resources on locking up the past so there are only crumbs left for the future.”These words come from the mother of Canadian murder victim Candace Derksen.

The occassion was her recent testimony (via videoconference from Winnipeg) at the Canadian House of Commons justice committee. The same committee which is studying their government’s new omnibus crime legislation.

Wilma Derksen’s daughter was murdered 27 years ago at the age of 13. Mark Grant was arrested for the crime much, much later in 2007. After his conviction last February he has a long wait for parole, as he is not even eligible for it until 2036.

Mia Rabson of the Winnipeg Free Press brings us additional details:

‘The sentencing of the man who murdered our daughter did not satisfy our need for justice,’ [Derksen] said.

She said in fact it will cost a lot of money to keep Grant in prison.

She fears the new bill will put more of the limited government dollars available into incarceration and not into the education system and social programs to help raise kids who are healthy and good members of society.

Derksen is not the only one coming out in opposition to the Omnibus Crime Bill, a  recently introduced piece of Tory legislation. It is a Frankenstein monster cobbled together from nine prior bills, all of which the Canadian Parliament refused to pass. Along with amendments to parts of the penal code, mostly geared towards mandatory sentencing, it will also make changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.  Among other things those changes include making it easier to prosecute juvenile repeat offender as adults.

One big sticking point with the incarceration mentality is the sheer cost involved. It is that financial bottom line which is finally motivating some Canadian politicians where statistics have failed. The Winnipeg Sun reports  that provincial Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier  has estimated the cost to Quebec alone would be hundreds of millions of dollars.

Quebec, he argued, doesn’t have the means to pay for it.

‘This bill does not offer the financial support for these changes,’ he said.

‘Quebec refuses to absorb these costs.’

It is to be hoped that the hasty attempts to push the bill through are slowed enough for real debate and a survey of the facts. Even here in the U.S. where prisons are big business, the states are drifting away from the broken and primitive incarceration mentality.

Image Source: alexindigo, used under its Creative Commons license