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Permanent Solution to Homelessness will be expensive

To end Hamilton’s Chronic homelessness crisis will require a total of $26 million in additional funding each year. That was the bottom line in a report to Hamilton’s Emergency and Community Services Committee. This is the second comprehensive report on homelessness presented to councillors in recent weeks. Earlier this month councillors learned that in the case of affordable housing , the city is losing affordable units more quickly than new ones are coming on stream. The issue will come to a head in April when staff present a Housing Sustainability and Investment Roadmap (HSIR). The HSIR will bring forward recommendations on priorities that have maximum impact on homelessness, some of which are investments in emergency services and some further upstream which are required to end chronic homelessness.

Some key points on the current status of housing and homelessness in Hamilton:

  • Hamilton is spending $133 million on housing
  • Spending to prevent and combat homelessness is budgeted at $40 million. The largest portion is provided by senior governments, Hamilton’s share is $6.3 million
  • 4037 persons accessed homeless programs at least once in Hamilton
  • 1536 are considered actively homeless having used the system within the last 90 days
  • Average Homeless numbers in 2021 were 1202
  • Persons living on the street numbered 144 per month in 2020 and dropped to 85 in 2021

The demand for subsidized community housing continues to grow. However, every year Hamilton loses units in the through the end of operating agreements with provincial and federal governments. Between 2001 and 2020, 1,654 units were removed from the community housing stock because of the end of operating agreements., By 2032 all operating agreements will expire.

There are fewer services for persons with the most complex needs: such as mental illness, addictions, and/or physical health challenges.

The homelessness sector continues to see unprecedented stress and turnover among staff at all levels. Some programs report turnover rates in the past year as being between 75-125%. The non-profit sector and homelessness support programs specifically have long faced extremely low wages for highly challenging and stressful work.

Current Prevention and Diversion Programs:

• An estimated 1200 people supported to boost income and retain housing through a pilot to support tax filing through HSD.

• An enhanced version of the Housing Stability Benefit Program with the flexibility of Rent Ready to support Ontario Disability Support Program, Ontario Works recipients, and people with low income to maintain their housing and prevent homelessness. This revised program will maintain a distinct Indigenous stream with dedicated funding allocation. In 2022, 1,425 households were supported through Rent Ready and 1522 supported through HSB.

• Enhancements to the Youth Diversion program for 2023-24 include a fulltime landlord liaison role and funding for dedicated diversion beds (bachelor apartments) to support youth in preventing shelter stays that increase risk of street involvement and prolonged homelessness. The Youth Diversion program supports an estimated 125 youth per year.

• Mobile case management for families staying in hotel overflow 2023-24. This will ensure that families staying in hotels receive support in setting housing goals, searching for housing, securing units appropriate to their budget and family size, and connecting with broader community and financial resources. Estimated support for 50 families per year.

• Early intervention supports in the men’s shelter system 2023-24 to help people quickly resolve experiences of homelessness and prevent prolonged shelter and street involvement. Estimated support for 550-660 men per year.

What is still needed

Staff presented a list of measures totalling more than $26 Million annually that would be needed to be taken together to actually combat homelessness. These included:

  • Repairing existing social housing units. 1935 units were repaired in 2021. There are another476 units in this years budget
  • 1.1 Million in rent subsidy
  • $2 Million to provide residential care to 660 individuals
  • $3.5 million for women’s overflow shelter
  • $1.95 million to create 86 more beds for women
  • $3,8 million to create 200 more family beds
  • $3 million to enhance drop-in services for nearly 900 persons
  • $3.4 million in rent subsidies for people exiting homelessness
  • $1.7 million to encourage landlords to keep housing units available to people exiting homelessness
  • $7.1 million for clinical supports to homeless persons

Some funding may be available from senior governments

Not all of this funding would come on the municipal tax bill. Many existing homelessness programs involve three levels of government. The Ontario budget released Thursday contained and additional $202 million for supportive housing and  an additional $425 million over three years to support mental health and addictions services, including a five per cent increase in the base funding of community-based mental health and addictions services providers funded by the Ministry of Health. It also provided $170 million to support youth exiting the child protection subsystem, some of whom might end up homeless. The federal budget will be released next week.

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