The federal government has officially confirmed $134.8m annual funding for the national homelessness program over the next three years. In September of 2008, the feds promised to extend the funding for five years, but said they would review funding practices at year two (fiscal 2010), so the decision to honour the 2008 promise is good news. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada says that the funding envelope for the 61 communities that receive most of the federal homeless dollars ‘will remain the same’ until fiscal 2014. By that year, federal funding for homelessness, low-income housing repair and the Affordable Housing Initiative are planned to drop to zero, as noted in the Wellesley Institute’s Precarious Housing in Canada 2010.
With the federal government talking a hard line on spending in recent months, there had been fears that homeless investments might be cut in full or in part. News that funding will be maintained at the current level for the next three years is very welcome, but the overall funding envelope has remained basically the same since the program was launched in 1999 – even as the number of communities has grown to 61.
There is no provision for the erosion in value of the dollars due to an inflation rate of 25% since 1999. There has been no adjustment over the years for increased needs as homelessness has grown more severe.
A key component of the federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) – called the Supporting Community Partnerships Initiative (SCPI) under the previous government – is that it is based on local homelessness plans developed by community-based groups (or, in the case of Toronto, by municipal officials in consultation with a community reference group). In making the funding announcement, the federal government acknowledged the ‘successful partnerships’ that have been created through HPS-SCPI are a key strength of the national program.
The federal government has promised ‘program enhancements’, but hasn’t provided more details. These include:
- greater support for rural and remote communities;
- ensuring culturally relevant programming and services for Aboriginal people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness;
- developing linkages on mental health and homelessness;
- increasing the relevance and dissemination of research;
- reinforcing accountability for results; and
- improving data sharing and collection.