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Initiative Profiles

Homelessness Initiatives Fund

Lead Organization: Shelter, Housing and Support Division, Community and Neighbourhood Services Department, City of Toronto
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Serving: Toronto


Why Against a national backdrop of increasing income inequality, in 1995 the Province of Ontario cut welfare rates by 21 percent, which forced many welfare recipients out of their own homes. Toronto was particularly hard hit, a situation made worse by the influx of homeless individuals from other jurisdictions in search of services and assistance.

Significant gaps exist between the housing portion of social assistance payments and what is required to cover average rent in Toronto. In 2000, some 30,000 persons used Toronto’s shelter system, fully 18 percent of them (5,400 persons) on a permanent basis. As an indication of underlying poverty, 140,000 individuals (including 65,000 children) used Toronto’s Food Bank program in the same year.

Wintertime deaths of homeless people due to exposure have become annual occurrences in the City and have contributed to the public pressure for the government to develop and implement more effective responses to Toronto’s homelessness crisis.

The Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto recognize a responsibility to respond to the needs of homeless persons in Toronto. HIF was established in 1992 as a principal funding mechanism for constructive assistance to homeless persons in Toronto. Since 1998 the HIF has administered both municipal and provincial funding for this purpose.


What HIF is a significant funding stream for the City to use in addressing homelessness, primarily through the delivery of direct services to homeless individuals by non-profit agencies established for this purpose. As such, HIF is a core funder (along with the United Way, the Trillium Foundation, and the Ontario government) of direct services for homeless people in Toronto. HIF is distinct from the City’s funding of shelters and affordable housing projects.

HIF directs its funding to community-based programs aimed at: (1) assisting people to move from living on the streets to emergency accommodation; (2) assisting people to move from emergency to permanent accommodation; and (3) preventing homelessness by supporting individuals to retain stable housing.

HIF also provides local government with an overview of the varied services related to homelessness and housing which facilitates the City’s role in monitoring and coordinating services. HIF actively communicates with front-line service providers, community stakeholders, and other core funders about problems and solutions to homelessness in Toronto.


Who Funding from HIF is aimed primarily at services for Toronto’s homeless communities or those at-risk of losing their housing. HIF was solely a municipal funding window when it was established in 1992, but was expanded in 1998 when the Province transferred funds from a similar provincial program to municipalities. HIF is within the Shelter, Housing and Support Division of the City’s Community and Neighbourhood Services Department, which is also responsible through other channels for the funding of shelters, social housing and affordable housing projects.

HIF staff participate in committees and forums that bring together city departments, local agencies, community members and their elected representatives on the issues of homelessness and housing in Toronto.


How HIF funds community-based programs that aim to help Toronto’s homeless populations to help themselves including: daytime drop-in centres, street outreach initiatives, harm reduction services, assistance in finding housing, assistance in preventing eviction (including legal assistance and access to emergency loans through the Rent Bank), training and assistance in business development, and food buying clubs. HIF also contributes to the Toronto Homeless Community Economic Development Program, which builds life skills, work skills, self-esteem and access to relevant services, and is administered by the United Way. HIF does not fund shelters, housing development or health services.

HIF is a core funder of many key services for homeless people in Toronto. Its annual resources of approximately CDN$6,900,000 are largely committed through multi-year funding agreements.


Results Results may be understood at two levels. The primary level pertains to the outcomes of the various community-based programs funded by HIF. These programs have generally been successful in engaging homeless persons with the specific types of services they provide. On the other hand, the underlying forces creating homelessness in Toronto remain stronger than ever, and the entire network of service-providers has been forced to cope with a significantly increased workload. The prevention and mitigation of homelessness has been achieved in the sense of addressing many individual difficulties, but not in the sense of reducing the extent of homelessness in Toronto.

The secondary level of results pertains to effectiveness and efficiency in providing services for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. HIF has successfully increased the coordination of services over a wide geographic area, and contributed to increased communications among major funders and within the City as a whole.


What's Been Learned HIF demonstrates that sustained municipal funding for creative responses to homelessness, when administered alongside municipal programs for shelters and social housing, can directly mitigate and prevent homelessness, promote strategic resource allocation, and increase service coordination and effectiveness.


What Comes Next From the City of Toronto’s perspective, the rapid increase in homelessness had the dimensions of a crisis, and its work on the issue was in crisis response mode. Now that a degree of stability in services has been achieved, the City is moving to longer-term responses, including the construction of affordable housing (through its Let’s Build program) and poverty reduction through income support programs (including rent supplements).

A key issue for Toronto, which experiences continuous population growth and low vacancy rates, is a shortage of affordable rental accommodation. The form and availability of rental accommodation in Toronto have been identified as major issues in addressing homelessness in the city.


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