The Housing Again Bulletin, sponsored by Raising the Roof as a partner in Housing Again.
A monthly electronic bulletin highlighting what people are doing to put housing back on the public agenda across Canada and around the world, sponsored by Raising the Roof as part of the Housing Again partnership.
News for March, 2005
Red Deer City Council Commits to Ending Homelessness
On the heels of a disappointing city council decision in Toronto recently that makes it illegal to sleep in public places, city councillors in Red Deer Alberta made a bold commitment towards ending homelessness. Councillors accepted a community facilitator’s report and have promised to eradicate homelessness in the city within 10 years. Saying they want to be the first municipality in Canada to make such a pledge, councillors voted unanimously on the motion from its homelessness task force.
Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling said the first two years of the municipality’s plan will be dedicated to reviewing the literature and best practices on dealing with homelessness and finding the solutions that would work best for the community of 76,000.
"This is being done in a number of American cities, so there are some models that we can follow to develop a set of strategies that we can adopt in our communities so that over the next decade we can work towards eradicating homelessness," Flewwelling told the media after the decision late last year.
And council hasn’t dragged its heels on getting the plan started. A special Mayor's Taskforce on Ending Homelessness has been set up for the study period. Red Deer, which is located between Edmonton and Calgary, has one downtown homeless shelter. It is overflowing, even though it was recently expanded to accommodate 40 people, said Councillor Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer. In response, local churches have started an "In >From the Cold" program to provide additional beds.
"As a matter of fact, just a wee while ago there were 20 more beds approved for a mat program in the downtown,” said Watkinson-Zimmer, who put forward the motion, after the decision was made at council. “The need is there and then there's more and more people going into In From the Cold, so you know it's becoming a way of life and we don't want it to be that way, it's just unacceptable."
Although the motion was passed unanimously, not everyone was completely convinced that the timeframe is realistic, but councillors want to think “positively” and have an action ready within three years.
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Federal Budget Disappoints Housing Advocates
The list of housing advocates and business leaders, including the Toronto Board of Trade, the Canadian Real Estate Association and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, expressing disappointment in the federal budget grows longer each day. Most were shocked that the Liberals failed to announce a national housing strategy, including tax incentives to encourage more private sector investment.
“One year after he personally promised to fund new social housing, Prime Minister Paul Martin has failed to make good on his own promise,” said Michael Shapcott, co-chair of the National Housing and Homelessness Network. “There is nothing - zero new dollars - for new housing. I was quite surprised by the deadening silence.”
Shapcott said Housing Minister Joe Fontana was on “damage control” after the budget was released.
“Minister Fontana gave me a call to explain that he couldn’t convince his colleagues to support a new national housing program because there is $800 million in unspent housing money since 2001,” he said. “On a positive note, though, the minister did say that he has instructed CMHC to come up with options to reinvest its $700 million surplus.”
Housing only gets one slim reference in Finance Minister Ralph Goodale’s budget speech:
“Accordingly, when our Municipal and Rural, Strategic and Border infrastructure programs are due to expire in the normal course over the next several years, it is our clear intention to renew and extend them into the future. The same is true for our housing initiatives.”
There is also a slight reference in the Aboriginal section:
“We will also make immediate investments in early learning, in special education, in child and family services on reserves, and in better housing, with a view to stimulating Aboriginal businesses and jobs in the housing sector—all under more effective Aboriginal direction and control.”
Minister Fontana also called Sharon Chisholm, the Executive Director of Canadian Housing and Renewal Association.
“He stated that increased flexibility as to how the provinces and territories can use the existing housing funding has been approved and his hope was that this would assist in getting the program rolling,” Chisholm said. “Increased flexibility will mean that a number of initiatives like private sector rent supplements will now be eligible.”
The federal government has ignored the housing crisis facing non-reserve Aboriginal communities, said Charlie Hill, President of the National Aboriginal Housing Association.
“We are pleased to see that the government will increase funding by $295 million over five years for new housing and housing repairs on First Nation reserves, but are shocked that the federal government has done nothing to address the crisis in non-reserve Aboriginal communities,” said Hill.
Minister Fontana has assured advocates that the consultations will move forward and the existing affordable housing initiatives will continue.
Canadian Conference on Homelessness Update
York University Professor Steve Gaetz, who is organizing the Canadian Conference on Homelessness scheduled for May 17 – 20 in Toronto, told Housing Again that the advisory panel was thrilled with the response to its call for proposals.
“We were expecting about 100 responses, but instead received 350 submissions for workshops and panel discussions,” Gaetz said. “The submissions were very impressive and came from all over Canada and from a variety of sectors. We had to create more space.”
The agenda is ready and registration will begin within the next week. Online registration is available from March 1. For more information: www.homeless.yorku.ca
National Housing Consultation Update: The National Secretariat on Homelessness organized a number of Expert Roundtables and Community Discussions across the country. Paul O'Hara, a Raising the Roof board member and social worker at the North End Community Health Centre in Halifax, attended meetings in Halifax in February, and more recently the one in Ottawa. He reports that the government representatives were focused and structured and seemed to be listening.
“Their questions were thoughtful, but they seemed to be looking for an either/or solution to housing,” O’Hara said. “What they heard though was it wasn’t a simple matter of building housing and then walking away.”
Just prior to the meeting in Halifax, Minister Fontana told reporters in attendance that a national housing strategy would be implemented “within the next few months.”
Energy Efficiency Strategies for Low-Income Canadians
The Canadian Housing Renewal Association and Green Communities Association sponsored an energy efficiency conference last month in Halifax, which participants say was an “overwhelming success.” Affordable Efficient Housing: Towards a National Energy Efficiency Strategy for Low Income Canadians drew a capacity crowd from housing, anti-poverty, and environmental organizations, as well as government representatives. The groups followed up with a letter to the Minister of Housing asking that energy efficiency strategies be available to social housing programs.
Building the Shared Learnings on Homelessness Directory
With over 600 listings, this Canada-wide directory is a growing resource for information and networking among agencies working on homelessness issues. The directory lists agencies working with homeless and at risk clientele, as well as organizations involved in research, policy development, and advocacy related to homelessness.
Now is the time to make sure your organization is listed and that the information is up-to-date. Shared Learnings on Homelessness is a project of Raising the Roof, with funding from Direct Energy.