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Did Billions in Spending Make a Dent in Homelessness? Canada Doesn’t Know.


While other Canadian cities are firmly in the winter, Toronto, after months of pleasant weather, finally surrendered its first snowfall on Tuesday, with more on the go. Winter is a habitual stress test for Toronto’s infrastructure, particularly public transportation, but also for social services for the homeless.

Most nights in Toronto, the shelter system is full and must turn away.

The city, like others in Canada, has received millions of dollars in federal funding in recent years to build more housing and has taken other measures to address homelessness. reside. But after about five years, no one can say if any of these federally funded programs are working to reduce homelessness, because no one seems to be following. it.

That is the conclusion that Karen Hogan, the auditor general of Canada, reached in her latest report. report investigating chronic homelessness, said that “the federal government does not know whether the efforts put in place to date will improve housing outcomes for vulnerable Canadians.”

The audit includes programs in National housing strategywas started by the federal government in 2017, with a plan to spend C$78.5 billion over 10 years in an effort to cut chronic homelessness in half by 2028, in part by funding for the construction of 160,000 houses.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a government-owned company that insures homebuyers’ mortgages, is leading the rollout of the national strategy.

Ms. Hogan found that the organization and other federal agencies that administer the program spent more than $4.5 billion and did not collect data on how that spending affected levels of homelessness. They also do not consider themselves responsible for addressing chronic homelessness or meeting planned targets.

“This means that although it is a federally established goal, the federal government bears minimal responsibility for its performance,” the report states.

Tracking homelessness can be a challenge. Most cities rely on numbers at specific times to record the number of people using a service on a particular day, according to a recent study. report by Canada’s national census agency.

In Toronto, an average of 8,200 people use shelters each night, 1,600 more than last year. That’s a record high for Canada’s most populous city, which has continued to add new beds at various rest centers to address demand. Throughout 2021, the city’s shelters served 18,500 people.

[Read: The Carpenter Who Built Tiny Homes for Toronto’s Homeless]

But that system doesn’t always give a full picture, given the nature of homelessness. It can be cyclical; mobile and transient population; and not all monitoring measures use the same definitions. Some people may not self-identify as homeless, or they may be among the “hidden homeless” or those trapped in precarious arrangements. An example is a person with no future housing option who is staying with friends.

Affordable housing became harder to find after 1993, when the federal government froze spending on social housing, a move experts see as the turning point to today’s housing crisis.

“Those chickens went home to sleep,” said John Graham, a professor of social work and head of the Kelowna Homeless Research Collaborative at the University of British Columbia.

Professor Graham says that modern housing is now seen by many as an investment good, not a human right. “It’s a shame that any society in our economic condition has homeless people,” he said.

The country has in recent years taken steps, such as the National Housing Strategy, to close the gap in affordable housing supply. But there’s still a long way to go, said Tim Richter, president of the Canadian Coalition to End Homelessness.

Mr. Richer, who is based in Calgary, told me: “The vast majority of housing produced doesn’t fit the pockets of those with the deepest needs, which means it doesn’t address the situation. homeless.

Even so, he said he hoped that the federal housing strategy would make a difference. “We just need to make sure to refocus and retool,” he said. “I think ending chronic homelessness in Canada is definitely achievable.”


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