End to housing funds will harm needy

By  Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
  • November 30, 2006
TORONTO - Canada's shelter allowance runs out March 31, and the Catholic agencies that deal with Toronto's homeless population warn that when that happens more and more people will fall through the cracks.

When the federal government funding dries up it's going to mean more poor, young mothers with no place to raise their children, said Rosalie Hall executive director Alan Nicholl. Rosalie Hall helped with 782 "ongoing family situations," plus 3,554 outreach contacts last year. In almost every case, housing is an issue, said Nicholl.

Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative has helped Rosalie Hall repair bathrooms and expand facilities for homeless mothers. If that funding is cut "you get leaky roofs — you don't get the facilities and programs that are able to help people get off the streets," said Nicholl.

Toronto Mayor David Miller has announced that in the new year the city will start winding down 46 projects designed to help the homeless. The city administers the SCPI funds, which come directly from federal coffers. The programs have to be phased out of existence by the time the money runs out on March 31.

A spokesperson for Human Resources and Social Development Minister Diane Finlay told The Catholic Register the Conservative government does not yet have a plan to deal with homelessness after March 31.

"We are looking at different means of addressing homelessness," the spokesperson said. "We want to make sure that we have the most effective and efficient method of addressing homelessness beyond March."

The uncertainty about funding is bad news for programs that help the homeless, said Nick Volk, Society of St. Vincent de Paul Ontario Council president. A veteran Habitat for Humanity volunteer, Volk is also a member of the Coalition to Continue SCPI. SCPI programs in Toronto, including Streets to Homes and other transitional programs that help people get out of shelters and into their own apartments, have cost the federal government $18 million a year over the last six years. Streets to Homes has moved 800 people off the street and into apartments since February 2005, according to the city's shelter, support and housing department.

"These programs have been productive in fostering the social improvement so needed in our Toronto and across the country," Volk told The Catholic Register in an e-mail.

In total the federal government has committed $172 million to homelessness initiatives across the country up to March 31, with no commitment beyond that date.

The end of the funding will mean Catholic Cross Cultural Service of Scarborough will lose one-and-a-half staff who help new immigrants find places to live.

"Housing is one of the basic necessities of settling into Canada," said executive director Caroline Davis. "It puts a whole lot of newcomers to Canada back a space or two in their efforts to settle into the community."

The Scarborough program for homeless and underhoused immigrants has a budget of $90,000 and saves dozens of families from sleeping on couches and floors in their friends' already overcrowded apartments, said Davis.

Davis doesn't understand why a government running a $7.2-billion surplus can't find a way to fund a modest program to prevent homelessness.

"Giving us $90,000 a year isn't going to put a dent in (Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's) $7.2 billion," she said. "Our $90,000 is less than a drop in the bucket. That's the best I could say that could be printed."

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.