Big cuts to homelessness prevention and housing programs will lead to an increase in housing insecurity and homelessness in Toronto. On October 5, the Wellesley Institute reported on $22 million in cuts to Toronto housing and homelessness programs – mainly due to cuts from the provincial government. The Toronto Star, in a front page story on October 18, carried more news on the Ontario cuts to Toronto programs. The Hardship Fund, which provides medical support to some of the poorest and most vulnerable Torontonians, is also back on the chopping block after a one-year reprieve.
Overall, the financial picture for Toronto housing and homelessness programs is grim. During the 2012 budget process, the city’s Shelter, Support and Housing division took an $83 million cut to its $869 million budget in 2011. Part of that was due to a $2 million cut in federal revenues, and a big chunk was due to a $56 million cut in provincial funding. The city also shaved its contribution to housing and homelessness programs by more than $20 million. The total spending on housing and homelessness programs in the current year (fiscal 2012) was set at $768 million – or a cut of almost 10% in one year. That cut came even as the city’s affordable housing wait list continued to grow, setting new records month after month.
However, while making a big cut in the fiscal 2012 budget, city officials projected a modest increase in fiscal 2013 (up $6 million) and another increase in fiscal 2014 (up $7 million) to accommodate growing housing need and increased homelessness. To meet those goals, Toronto housing and homelessness staff were counting on no further cuts from the federal government and modest increases in both the provincial and municipal contributions.
However, those confident predictions have been thrown out the window by the latest news from the provincial government. The 16% cut in provincial funding for housing and homelessness programs comes on top of the termination of the federal At Home / Chez Soi mental health and homeless initiative that will see about 250 Torontonians lose their housing supports as of the end of March 2014. The federal government is also committed to plans to end its Affordable Housing Initiative (which funds new homes) and its Homelessness Partnering Strategy (which funds homeless supports and transitional housing) by fiscal 2014.
Among the provincial homelessness prevention programs that are facing funding cuts as of January 1, 2013, are the rent bank (which helps low-income households avoid eviction and homelessness by covering rental arrears); the energy bank (which helps low-income households cover the high cost of energy – the second leading cause of evictions in Ontario, according to housing experts), the community start-up fund (which helps homeless families make the transition to housing) and emergency shelter funding (which funds homeless shelters to provide temporary support for those without housing).