By Tim Richter
In June 2017 the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development appointed an Advisory Committee on Homelessness. The mandate of the committee was to support the redesign of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. The 13-member committee met over the course of seven months, held roundtables in eight regions (along with a roundtable focused on veterans homelessness and a meeting with Community Entities and Community Advisory Board representatives at CAEH17) and they pored over reams of research and feedback from a public consultation process. The committee’s report with recommendations to the Minister was released today.
Here are 11 things to know about the report:
- The biggest proposed change for communities is the shift to data-driven coordinated local homeless systems to achieve the government’s objective of reducing chronic homelessness by 50%. This change would involve (among other things) a community system plan replacing the previous HPS Community Plan (page 10) and a shift to the collection of real-time data on everyone experiencing homelessness in Canada (page 13). Experience in Canada (i.e. Calgary, Edmonton, Guelph, Hamilton, Medicine Hat, Red Deer, Waterloo) and the US shows that reductions in chronic homelessness (and with other populations including youth and veterans) happens when communities take a systemic approach grounded in the Housing First philosophy using real-time data. The committee recognized that the strength of the HPS is its community based model and the recommendations seek to reinforce that approach. The committee also recommended the government maintain a focus on Housing First (page 15) and support local capacity building with changes to the Innovative Solutions to Homelessness funding stream (page 27).
- The committee urged the government to take the time to get it right. Given the proposed new HPS would be a significant change from the old HPS, the committee recommended a transition period until fiscal 2021-22 (page 13).
- The committee recognized the importance of lived experience. In addition to recommending a permanent lived experience advisory panel to report to Minister Duclos (page 7), lived experience engagement was embedded in recommendations through out the report.
- The committee recommended a National Definition of Homelessness. The lack of a federally adopted definition of homelessness creates a critical disadvantage to accessing HPS funds for women, youth, individuals who identify as LGBTQ2S, Indigenous Peoples and people who may be hidden homeless. (page 10)
- The Indigenous Definition of Homelessness and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had a major impact on the thinking of the committee. The committee recommended the national adoption of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness’ Indigenous Definition of Homelessness (pages 8), an increase in funding for the Indigenous stream of HPS, that a review of all Directives through an Indigenous lens be completed and that cultural competency training be prioritized (page 20).
- The committee recommended HPS maintain the prioritization of chronic homelessness but proposed amending the prioritization to include acuity recognizing that we should not leave people with urgent needs homeless until they meet a chronological threshold (pages 16/17).
- The committee supported the addition of new communities and recommended a two-step qualifying process based on available funding (page 18). The committee recommendation also stressed that the expansion of the program to new communities should not result in reduced funding in existing communities.
- The committee paid special attention to homelessness for women and youth. The committee felt that the current HPS did not adequately address the unique needs of women experiencing homelessness (page 21). The committee also felt it was important for HPS to put emphasis on youth homelessness (page 24) in line with recommendations proposed by A Way Home and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.
- New funding for the Territories. Given the unique housing and homelessness challenges in the north the committee recommended a new funding stream for the Territories modelled on the Designated Communities stream (page 26).
- The committee recognized the importance of prevention and recommended funding for demonstration projects and suggested the government should have a clear definition of prevention, pursue opportunities for partnerships with others orders of government or government departments. The committee also noted the importance of real-time data to target interventions and support policy change to prevent homelessness (page 27).
- The committee made an argument for the Right to Housing suggesting that if the government was serious about the Right to Housing, it should commit to a national strategy to end homelessness, better target National Housing Strategy resources to people at risk of or experiencing homelessness and develop a Responsibility to Assist protocol across the federal government (page 29). A Responsibility to Assist protocol would put a positive obligation on federal public agencies to inquire about a person’s housing status and act to resolve their homelessness.
In conclusion: The government deserves credit for taking an open and consultative approach to the redesign of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. If the committee’s recommendations are accepted, this would be the most significant change in federal homelessness programming since the introduction of the National Homelessness Initiative in 1999.
**Thank you to Nick Falvo for the inspiration on the format of this blog!