It’s day one of Canada’s national housing and homelessness conference, and more than 600 eager delegates packed the MacEwan Conference Centre at the University of Calgary. A pre-conference rumour raised a frisson of excitement among the housing experts, academics, service and housing providers, federal, provincial and municipal officials and – of course – people who have directly experienced homelessness that federal housing minister Diane Finley (making a relatively rare public appearance) was going to make a major new announcement.
She didn’t. She re-announced funding and programs that have already been announced many times before ($2 billion for affordable housing over the next two years in the last federal budget and $1.9 billion over five years for homelessness and housing programs announced last September). It only seems like a lot of money until you realize both the scale of the national affordable housing crisis and the paltry federal commitment, especially compared to the record of many other rich countries around the world.
Canada is the only major country in the world without a national housing plan, and Minister Finley said nothing about laying the foundation for such an urgent priority. She spoke about “housing first” as the best model to end homelessness (it is!), but failed to mention that housing first only works if first you have some housing.
The federal government has refused to meet with provincal and territorial housing ministers since the current government was elected in 2006 (the last federal, provincial, territorial housing ministers’ meeting was in 2005 in Nova Scotia). The provincial premiers, in the official communique after their last meeting, urged the federal government to join with the provinces and territories in taking action on affodable housing.
Sadly, Minister Finley walked out of the conference before the opening keynote presentation by Dr David Hulchchanski, the University of Toronto housing scholar who is recognized as one of the leading academic experts in the world. Dr. Hulchanski gave a devastating review of the dramatic erosion of Canadian housing policy and programs in the past few years – and the explosion in homelessness.
It’s very inspiring to attend any one of dozens of workshops, or even just to grab people in the hallways, and hear all the practical, effective and efficient housing and homelessness solutions that are being implemented in every part of the country. Canada doesn’t lack for great ideas and smart people to implement them – our senior levels of government have become dis-engaged and downloaded the growing problems of housing insecurity and homelessness to municipalities and often to thinly-funded community organizations.
It’s not just about money – it’s about re-building a series of pragmatic partnerships and ensuring that a national housing plan with a full tool-kit of policy options is available to tackle the local and regional dimensions of the problem. There are plenty of successful models in Canada and around the world.