Considering the urgent cross-country homelessness disaster, and the many services and projects that were not funded due to a lack of federal funding, it is shocking that the unspent amount has ballooned to more than double the amount acknowledged last summer.
Meanwhile, the federal government has granted a partial administrative extension for the homeless program, which means that there is some flexibility as the program bridges from fiscal 2006 to fiscal 2007. This extension is a critical even though the federal government announced in December of 2006 that it would add an additional two years of funding to the national homelessness initiative. If the extension is fully granted, then agencies that receive federal dollars for critical services to the homeless won’t have to shut down on March 31, then wait for weeks (or months) while the new program spending gets into the pipeline.
Phil Brown, a senior housing manager, at the City of Toronto, sent out this information about the administrative extension on Friday:
We have now had word from ServiceCanada about an administrative extension to SCPI beyond March 31st. While there is a nine month extension till December 31st, it only applies to very specific items. These are:
– capital projects which are underway but not completed
– costs associated with undertaking a community plan assessment (consultants etc)
– costs associated with undertaking a community plan update (consultants etc)
– audit costs for 2006/07
All direct service project costs post March 31st are to come out of HPS funds. To ensure there is no service disruption, ServiceCanada is committed to trying to have a bridging contract in place by April 1st. We are seeking further details on this.
All information received on the above has been verbal in nature; we have no documentation or anything in writing at this stage.
So, while this is not as flexible as we had hoped, it will certainly help us to fully invest our current allocation and complete capital projects. We will keep you informed as we get more information.
– Michael Shapcott
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More than $70M in homeless funding wasn’t spent
Updated Sun. Feb. 18 2007 11:27 PM ET
OTTAWA — More than $70 million in federal money earmarked for the homeless was never spent, despite an urgent need across the country, says an internal study.
The draft report, obtained under the Access to Information Act, found no satisfactory explanation for why government officials appeared to withhold available cash from Canada’s soup kitchens and emergency shelters.
There are substantial amounts of funding ($70M+) that were available but not spent,” says the document. If the need was as large as described . . . then it would seem that the expenditures should be closer to actual budget allocations. The evaluation team was unable to determine the rationale for this discrepancy.
The apparent shortfall occurred in the National Homelessness Initiative, a seven-year program begun in 1999 to respond to a perceived surge in the number of Canadians living on the streets.
Human Resources and Social Development Canada, which runs the program, decided in 2005 to order a $455,000 evaluation of the initiative by independent consultants Goss Gilroy Inc.
The just-released draft report, based on work in 2006, generally praises the program, saying it had substantial impacts on the daily lives of those in Canada who are homeless or at risk of homelessness . . . They included youth, aboriginal people, people addressing mental health and addiction issues, new immigrants, single parents, and survivors of abuse or violence.
Goss Gilroy examined in detail the $540-million second phase of the initiative, a four-year funding commitment that’s set to end next month. Almost 1,400 emergency shelters and similar projects received federal cash in a bottom-up process, under which communities determined their own needs.
The evaluation said Ottawa’s money was critical to success, and did not overlap with any other programs. The consultants also noted that counting the homeless is notoriously difficult, so there’s no reliable way to measure whether the numbers on the street have declined because of the program.
Street counts, which are often point-in-time estimates, tend to underestimate the extent of homelessness by not capturing the ‘hidden homeless’. Goss Gilroy also said that it lacked enough financial information to properly evaluate all money-related matters. But it flagged the $70 million in unspent funds as surprising, given the urgent demands for shelter.
Audit officials at Human Resources said in a written statement that the Goss Gilroy finding has not been validated with departmental financial information and is subject to change. And the official in charge of the program said the consultants failed to comprehend that unspent money is sometimes carried over from one year to the next as approved projects progress.
They simply didn’t understand the way our financial system works, said Jane Weldon, director general of housing and homelessness. I think they were in a rush – they just didn’t quite understand. Weldon acknowledged there will be some unspent funds once the program winds down on March 31, but said it would be a much smaller amount. She could not provide an estimate.
Money’s been flowing all over the country, Weldon said. I don’t think there are many cases where money isn’t flowing.
But the NDP housing critic, MP Irene Mathyssen, said cash appeared to start drying up after the Tory government came to power last year.
To this day, there are still some agencies waiting for money, she said from her London, Ont., riding. Last summer, the Conservative government came under heavy pressure from homeless advocates to renew the program beyond March 31.
Instead, on Dec. 19 they announced their own two-year initiative, the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, with the same annual funding – $135 million – as the Liberal program. The new Tory program comes into effect April 1, but Mathyssen says the homelessness problem needs continuous funding, not short-term fixes. Mathyssen said she’s also worried that the same amount of money will now be stretched across even more projects, since the Tories have said they want to fund more rural centres.
Are they going to spread it so thin that they have to let some of the current providers go?