As long-time advocates for increases to supportive housing, CMHA Ontario is pleased to see improved housing and ending homelessness as central long-term goals of Ontario’s new Poverty Reduction Strategy, Realizing Our Potential. The strategy recognizes that factors contributing to poverty are complex and multi-faceted, and that adequate housing is an essential ingredient to reducing poverty. For example, education may provide a path out of poverty, but not without a roof overhead to study and rest. Having a home and, in particular a permanent address, is an important first step for many people to move out of poverty and to take advantage of services or employment training.
For many vulnerable people in Ontario, especially those with mental illnesses and addictions, chronic homelessness or sub-standard housing are ongoing problems. However, homelessness is something that can be effectively tackled.
Research clearly shows that a Housing First approach works. Simply put, Housing First is an approach where housing is provided as the first step, in combination with supportive services, to people who are homeless and living with mental health issues. It is based on the idea that the first and most primary need for people is housing, and that any other issues a person is living with can be addressed once a person has housing. As stated in Realizing Our Potential, “When individuals and families have a home to call their own, they have improved health, education and employment prospects, and they are that much closer to exiting poverty.”
The following promises related to housing are featured in Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy:
- Enhance funding for the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative by $42 million starting in 2014-15 and, up to a total of $294 million in subsequent years. As part of this initiative, Ontario will provide municipalities and local governments with $251 million in 2014-15 to prevent and reduce homelessness in their local communities.
- Build on the momentum generated by the Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy, the province will update its Strategy by 2015-16, so that housing policies are relevant to current realities and reflect new research and best practices.
- Invest $4 million dollars of funding to the important supportive housing project called At Home/Chez Soi. This was a four-year research demonstration project funded by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and, its funding ending in March 2013. This additional funding will provide 240 people, with serious mental health issues living in 216 units in Toronto, with rent supplements and support services to enable them to live successfully in their communities
- Allocate $16 million over three years to create approximately 1,000 new supportive housing spaces.
- Use the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games Athletes’ Village as a new mixed-use community on Toronto’s waterfront that will include 253 units of and up to 100 additional affordable ownership units.
- Contribute over $400 million to match the federal government’s commitment to the Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) for Ontario program over the next five years. That’s a total investment of over $801 million for affordable housing across the province!
- Provide support for off-reserve Aboriginal housing through a dedicated program under the extension of the IAH program. To date, 151 Aboriginal households have received loans to purchase homes, while 109 have benefited from a repair program, and 13 rental projects for 138 units have been approved for funding.