News Items for April 14, 2017

  1. Parker: Horizon adds to affordable housing legacy
  2. Homelessness in Metro Vancouver up 30% since 2014, according to new homeless tally
  3. More women over 50 seeking shelter, homelessness report finds. While more single men also used the city’s shelters, the report notes their stays are shorter.
  4. City spends more than $12,000 a day on overflow shelters for homeless
  5. Community in a better place thanks to efforts of Randell
  6. First Nations housing: thinking outside the box. From energy-efficient units to home ownership schemes, First Nations tackling the housing crisis.
  7. What If We Acted as Though Homelessness Were a Real Emergency?
  8. Toronto’s seniors are at high risk of ending up homeless, report finds. Lack of services and difficult to navigate programs identified as the main problems.

Parker: Horizon adds to affordable housing legacy
Calgary Herald, April 6, 2017
By: David Parker

Opposed at the time by some neighbours, Horizon Housing Society opened its first stand-alone home for residents with mental health challenges in 1978. Forty years on, the organization will open a new facility on its Elbow Valley lands above Glenmore Trail on 45th Street S.W., but this time with the welcome mat out from the Glamorgan community. Horizon has come a long way since it was founded in 1976 by leaders of the Calgary region of the Canadian Mental Health Association. The initial opposition led the organization to conceive a better housing model where individuals with mental health challenges were integrated alongside people with other needs such as physical disabilities, families and seniors living below the poverty line and the working poor. Horizon today owns and manages 15 residences — eight supported homes and seven apartment buildings — across the city serving over 700 vulnerable Calgarians. The society is led by executive director Kim O’Brien and a volunteer board chaired by Ian MacDonald. O’Brien, a native of Ferryland, Newfoundland, studied political science at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia before landing her first job with Boardwalk Rental Communities in Calgary. Transferred to the company’s Toronto office, she progressed to vice-president investments, managing a $1 billion-plus mortgage portfolio, before moving to Horizon in 2008. Horizon has developed a network that works with 15 support agencies to deliver a wide range of programs and services. Its Elbow Valley development involves 3.4 acres bought from a site owned by Silvera for Seniors where it plans to build multi-living suites plus more supportive units and, working with Horizon, amenities that support clients of both organizations. Zeidler BKDI Architects designed the 160-unit facility, which includes a five-storey building facing Glenmore Trail and 12 two-storey town houses behind it. The project also allows for a future four-storey addition. Stephen Bugbee, a partner at Zeidler BKDI, said the firm has lots of experience designing low-cost housing, having previously worked for Habitat for Humanity on 16th Avenue N.W., Airdrie Housing and McPherson Place on Memorial Drive N.E. Each floor has a common room above the central lobby area that can be used by residents and their families. The same invitation will go out regarding a children’s play area and landscaping that will help build community relations with the community of Glamorgan and Silvera residents. Horizon received a $17.9 million grant from the Alberta government and has raised another $3 million through the Resolve campaign. Fundraising continues and O’Brien is looking forward to a construction start this month, with occupancy expected by the end of next year.

Homelessness in Metro Vancouver up 30% since 2014, according to new homeless tally
News Talk 770, April 10, 2017
By: Matt Lee

Metro Vancouver is out with its homeless count for 2017, and 3,605 is the troubling number gathered from volunteers who conducted the count. Troubling, because that number represents a 30 per cent increase from the previous tally in 2014. Almost every single municipality experienced an increase in homelessness, with the lone exception being the North Shore. Delta, White Rock, Langley and the Tri-Cities, in particular, saw the biggest jumps – at least doubling their numbers from three years ago. Port Moody mayor Mike Clay says the results are indicative of a province-wide issue. “We know that there are 70 makeshift camps throughout the region in Vancouver, Langley, Maple Ridge, North Vancouver, Surrey, Delta, Burnaby, and Coquitlam, and one of the things we’re learning and emphasizing is that this is not just a Vancouver problem, this is affecting all of us in the region.” He adds it’s an issue that will continue until more systemic changes are put into place. Meanwhile Jeremy Hunka of the Union Gospel Mission calls the results alarming. “I’m hoping that these numbers serve as a big wake up call to Metro Vancouver.” Hunka adds he’s concerned the number is also too conservative. The percentage of Indigenous, Aboriginal, and youth under the age of 25 on the streets all saw some sort of jump to varying degrees. Earlier in the day housing advocates outlined their suggestions for decreasing homelessness in B.C., which includes an annual investment of $1.8-billion into affordable housing.


More women over 50 seeking shelter, homelessness report finds. While more single men also used the city’s shelters, the report notes their stays are shorter.
CBC News, Apr 11, 2017
By Kate Porter

The number of people who used emergency shelters in Ottawa continued to rise last year, with greater increases among families and older women, according to a report that provides an annual snapshot of homelessness in the city.

In total, 7,170 people stayed at a shelter at some point in 2016, up 5.The Alliance to End Homelessness released its annual report this morning. It describes some improvements over 2015: more affordable units were built in the city and more households received rent subsidies, for instance. It also suggested headway is being made to find permanent housing for single men: their average shelter stay dropped from 65 nights in 2014 to 61 nights in 2016. But there are concerning trends among families, older women and teens that need attention, according to the Alliance’s executive director Mike Bulthuis.

Otherwise, the City of Ottawa’s 2013 strategy to eliminate homelessness could go off-track, he said. “The ten-year plan needs to respond a little bit more to these emerging issues that we see and develop some customized or targeted approaches as we have for single men,” said Bulthuis. But while Bulthuis would like to see the city recommit to spending $4 million to build new housing — something it hasn’t done in a few years — he said it will be up to all levels of government and the community to address homelessness and the many different types of people it affects. The federal government is set to increase funding for housing and release a national housing strategy this year and the Ontario government is looking at reforming social assistance and instituting a basic income pilot program, the report noted. More women 50+ seek shelter The 2016 snapshot found 328 women over the age of 50 sought shelter, up 20 per cent from 273 older women in 2015. Women over age 60 were staying longer than in previous years: 86 nights on average in 2016. Ottawa’s population is aging in general, and the women who show up at Cornerstone Housing for Women’s emergency shelter are no different. Some may have lived at the edge for some time and need more help with the onset of health problems or dementia, suggested Cornerstone’s executive director Sue Garvey. “Or, maybe they just can’t continue to scrape together the pennies to make the rent as the rent goes up, and so they become more vulnerable as they age,” said Garvey. That said, Garvey sees some projects on the horizon that will provide Meanwhile, the number of families in shelters rose to 879 in 2016, up 12.5 per cent from 781 families the year before. Ottawa’s family shelters are full, the report noted, so about $4.5 million in 2016 was spent to house families in motels. The number of young people aged 16 to 25 staying in youth shelters actually dropped by 100 people in the last year, to 287 from 387, but those who did use the beds stayed much longer: 47 nights instead of the average of 32 in 2015. The report also expressed concern that a greater proportion of those youth are 16 or 17 years old.


City spends more than $12,000 a day on overflow shelters for homeless
Ottawa Citizen, April 12, 2017
By: Shauna Mcginn

It costs the City of Ottawa about $12,300 a day — or $4.5 million a year — to house the homeless in motels when existing shelters are full. And according to a report released Tuesday by the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa, the shelters are almost always full. Lack of affordable housing is the main reason for this overflow, says Mike Bulthuis, executive director of the alliance, whose 2016 Progress Report on Ending Homelessness in Ottawa paints a bleak picture of the city’s housing situation. There are more than 10,000 people on the city’s Centralized Waiting List for affordable housing, but according to Bulthuis, there was only enough space to house 1,700 of them last year. The report found that the number of families staying in shelters rose 12.5 per cent in 2016 compared to the year before. Bulthuis says one in five rented households in Ottawa spend more than half their income on rent – a situation that puts people at high risk of losing their homes. It’s families like these that often end up waiting on the centralized list. Families who stay in shelters experience high levels of unemployment, are often led by single parents, or are newcomers to Canada, he says. The number of families seeking shelter has been on the rise in the last three years. Families now account for more than half of all the beds per night in Ottawa’s shelter system. A total of 879 families lived in an emergency shelter in 2016, including 1,577 children under the age of 17. That compares to 706 families in 2014. Every night last year, an average of 347 family members were housed in motels. This is paid for by the city with funding from the province – money that would be better spent investing in long-term housing, the report notes. Bulthuis says prioritizing the building of affordable units is the most effective long-term solution. He says while it would likely be expensive at first, “the payoff would be much better.” While non-profits like the Salvation Army or the Ottawa Mission focus on individuals and youth, it’s the City of Ottawa that is responsible for family shelters. Currently, there are two of these city-run shelters: one located at 2980 Carling Ave., and another at 211 Forward Ave.. Shelley VanBuskirk, a manager at the city’s Housing Services department, says families sometimes become homeless for reasons outside of the city’s control, such as domestic violence or economic downturn. She says the city is focused on creating more space for affordable housing and is currently working on several projects that will result in more than 120 new affordable units. Family homelessness, she says, is often indicative of a larger problem. “We know that social assistance rates are not adequate to meet housing needs.”

Community in a better place thanks to efforts of Randell
Lethbridge Herald, April 11, 2017
By: Melissa Villeneuve

For the past 19 years, Diane Randell has devoted herself to fighting racism, homelessness and other social issues in Lethbridge. At last, she is taking a well-deserved rest and thanking the community for working towards a welcoming and inclusive society. Monday marked her final day working as the Community and Social Development manager for the City of Lethbridge, and also her birthday. A retirement party was organized by friends and colleagues, and held on Tuesday. “It’s been an honour and it’s been a privilege to serve,” she said. “One of the things I hope is this important work continues with compassion and humanity.” This isn’t where Randell imagined her career would go, but given all she’s accomplished, it seems to be exactly what she was born to do.

Raised on a cattle ranch north of Waterton, she is no stranger to hard work. As one of nine children, each were tasked with daily chores and the expectation to continue post-secondary education. “It taught me a lot,” said Randell. “It taught us about resilience, it taught us about work ethic, about relying on each other, and I think maybe that first sense of community came from watching my mom and dad in the community and that connectedness with neighbours.” In high school, she always wanted to go into medicine for a career. After graduation, she headed to the University of Calgary for nursing.

Her first job was as a staff nurse in Pincher Creek, then as a nurse in Calgary and in administration doing organizational development and planning. Randell worked in health care until she began working with the City. Some would think the two careers are worlds apart but Randell drew some parallels. “I learned a lot about myself and about community because when you’re a health-care professional in a smaller community you become involved in the community. A big shift, but it taught me a lot.” She began as a Family & Community Support Services co-ordinator with the City. Lethbridge was identified as one city to focus on housing and homelessness, so in 2002, she worked with then director of community development, Tom Hudson, to implement housing and homelessness initiatives. And so Social Housing in Action was built, along with Gary Bowie and his team.

Randell held on to employment a little longer than most. One of her goals before retiring was she hoped Lethbridge could declare it had ended street homelessness. Although last year’s provincial point-in-time homeless population count showed there were still eight people “sleeping rough” on the streets, there’s no denying how far the city has come through the work of SHIA and the community. “From where it came from, that’s an 87 per cent decrease from 2008. Overall homelessness has decreased by 68 per cent,” she said. “That’s real kudos to our community, community leaders and council who have made that happen, and had the trust in our innovative approaches.” The big shift came with the 7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness, a collaborative forum which includes Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer and Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. “It was the 7 Cities who said just building shelters, we’re just managing homelessness, we’re not making a difference. So it’s time we do something different.”

They met with the provincial government and secured funding to do some administration projects with Housing First, which provides permanent housing and support programs. The Housing First program “took off” said Randell, and in 2009, the province put forward a 10-year plan to end homelessness, while the 7 Cities did the same. “That was a huge step and that’s when we started to actually see differences,” said Randell. “So to be part of that building and to work in the community — there’s about 100 people involved and they’ve stuck with it … I have so much respect and consider it a great privilege to have worked with them.” Besides SHIA, Randell also worked with social policy, which didn’t exist until 2005. Council determined it was important to pull together a Community and Social Development committee of council. That’s when social policy priorities came forward such as the Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination, Vibrant Lethbridge, which addresses poverty, and Beyond Your Front Door — building welcoming, inclusive neighbourhoods. Randell holds high respect for community leaders “who are willing to step out and take ownership for something that is an issue that impacts them.” “I have been so fortunate to work with so many amazing groups,” she said. “It’s that respect and that strengthening of what you want to see when you get the whole system in a room to make a difference.” One of her career highlights was being appointed to Alberta’s Interagency Council on Homelessness. She said “it’s been a joy” to see the work they’ve accomplished provincially and nationally. “It has been a journey,” she said. “But it’s just built and built and built and I firmly believe the success is because of the community.” Additionally, her experience working with the Indigenous community has been “overwhelming.” “I’ve learned so much and yet I know so little,” she said, stressing the importance of the Reconciliation work the city is working on. It’s all about “the interconnectedness between communities and the relationships we build to achieve outcomes,” she said. “It’s working in and with community that’s so important.” Randell said she knows that legacy will carry on through the team she’s worked alongside for years. “I hope I’ve been able to model some of the things that are really important to do that work, but I know that they’ll build on it and that’s great.” In addition to her city and nursing career, Randell is a founding member of the Abreast of Bridge Dragon Boat Team, a founding board member and past Chair of the Lethbridge Dragon Boat Festival and a member of the U of L Senate. She has been recognized by Rotary International, the YWCA and is a recipient of the Queen’s Jubilee Medal. In true Diane Randell fashion, she worked right up to the very last minute of her shift on Monday. Now that she’s retired, she looks forward to spending more time with her young grandchildren, travelling with her husband, and taking some time to rest. After a well-deserved break, she plans to continue to stay active within the community. “I don’t know what it will be yet. I just need to take a break and figure out what and who I am now that I’ve retired. The next stage will evolve and I’m excited about that.”

First Nations housing: thinking outside the box. From energy-efficient units to home ownership schemes, First Nations tackling the housing crisis
CBC News , April 11, 2017
By: Tim Fontaine

While mouldy, overcrowded homes are a sad reality in many First Nations, some communities are looking within and finding unique ways to shelter their people. On the Yale First Nation, near Hope, B.C., that means the construction of modular units that can be heated for much less than standard houses, while lasting longer in the province’s often wet weather. It’s a far cry from previous years, when many of the homes were falling apart. “They were dilapidated, one was condemned and demolished and the other cost us $100,000 just to renovate,” said Crystal Sedore, Yale First Nation’s housing manager.

‘Passive’ homes

Following a push by chief and council to clean up the community’s housing problems, which included renovations to almost all of the existing and ageing homes, the First Nation partnered with Britco in 2016 — a company probably best known for its orange-topped office trailers — to construct six new family units. Built using what’s known as “passive” technology, the units face the sun, have thicker walls and three layers of insulation which means monthly heating bills are reduced by as much as 80 per cent. Heat from the stove and dryer is also recycled to heat the rest of the house, which is air tight.

Yale modular house

The first families moved into the units on April 1 and although the units were built for around $50,000 more than that what Sedore calls “B.C. box houses,” she estimates they’ll save the First Nation thousands in heating and maintenance over the years. “As far as we’re aware, this is the very first passive house built on a reserve,” said Sedore, proudly. The community is so pleased that four more units are being constructed now, built inside a climate-controlled facility so moisture doesn’t have a chance to seep into the skeleton of the house and form mould.

Tailor-made solutions

The Yale First Nation isn’t alone in thinking outside the box when it comes to housing. Since 1977, the Mohawk community of Kahnawake — located just outside Montreal — has been offering a unique loan program that allows residents there to build their own homes. Called a “revolving loan fund,” people borrow money towards construction of new houses and what they pay back for the loan goes into a pot that can be loaned to others.”It gives us the ability to have the funds remain here, not with a financial institution, so it gives us control,” said Iris Jacobs, manager of Kahnawake’s housing department. “We’re also providing affordable housing for our members.

Yale First Nation house

Jacobs estimates that the fund has helped over 500 community members build new homes, each of which is tailored to what they want and can afford and built to strict codes that she said exceeds provincial standards. For those who can’t afford to purchase a new home yet, the community also offers a “rent to equity” program which sees people live in a house with a portion of their monthly rent going into savings which is later matched by Kahnawake and can be put towards a down payment.

No ‘one size fits all’ approach

On the prairies, a group perhaps better known for flash-mob round-dances has also set its sights on the future of First Nations housing — without any help from the federal government. Since 2015, Idle No More organizers have been working on the One House, Many Nations campaign, whose first order of business was crowdfunding a self-sufficient, off-the-grid “tiny house” which was built and delivered to a family in Saskatchewan by Winnipeg-based Mini Homes of Manitoba. The group is fundraising again, this time to build a prototype for a unique village within the Opaskweyak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba. Designed specifically for that community with the input of its citizens, the village will feature central buildings for things like cooking and eating, connected to private living spaces.

One House, Many Nations

“The challenge of this project is that it is simply not possible to solve the housing crisis on Indigenous lands with a single design,” reads a description on its fundraising website. “Each community is unique and will need to tailor and/or modify their own designs to meet their unique challenges.”

What If We Acted as Though Homelessness Were a Real Emergency?
The Tyee, April 12, 2017
By: Stefania Seccia

Metro Vancouver mayors say B.C.’s most populated and affluent region has a shelter crisis, with at least 4,000 people living without a home. n the region, the number of unsheltered people has risen by an average of 26 per cent annually in every year since 2011. Homeless people have set up 85 informal camps across the metro region, and in an average week, at least five more people lose their shelter. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson calls it “a state of emergency,” telling The Tyee in an interview that “the incoming B.C. government needs to make this an emergency priority” after the May election. But what if those words came with real weight?Other West Coast cities have experienced the same intensifying homelessness as Vancouver, driven by similarly growing populations, income inequality, low apartment vacancy rates, soaring rents, and sharply limited resources to shelter even the chronically homeless.

‘Emergencies’ south of the border

But south of the border several cities have declared the extent of their homelessness a “state of emergency,” using the declaration to jumpstart long-planned projects, jog bureaucracies out of inertia, raise awareness, and shake loose funding for more beds, shelter and support for people living below the poverty line. Since 2015, Seattle and its surrounding King County in Washington state, the cities of Eugene and Portland in Oregon, San Jose and Oakland in California, and the State of Hawaii, have all declared an official homelessness, housing, or shelter-related, “state of emergency.” According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a U.S. federation of public, private, and non-profit organizations, a state of emergency in American law “refers to a crisis or disaster” that allows the government to spend money more flexibly and to suspend normal procedures or regulations, such as bypassing zoning requirements. In October 2015, Portland committed US$20 million, later topped up with an additional US$10 million from its regional government, for homeless services. At the same time it created a process to waive some zoning rules, such as parking and design requirements, to make it easier to open homeless shelters. After the State of Hawaii declared its shelter emergency the same month, it built a US$250,000 temporary shelter for families. It also extended the terms of contracts for homeless services and increased funding by US$1.3 million for programs around permanent housing. A month after Hawaii and Portland, and prompted in part by the discovery that 3,000 children in city schools had no secure permanent home, Seattle also declared a shelter emergency. It increased existing incentives for landlords to rent apartments to homeless veterans, and added US$7 million to its homelessness budget. Surrounding King County threw in another US$2 million. After declaring its emergency in January 2016, Oakland, CA, granted projects providing services to the homeless a temporary partial holiday from planning, zoning, building or other permit requirements. “Calling a [state of emergency] will not automatically increase resources,” the National Alliance to End Homelessness concluded, after studying their use across the U.S. But “for the communities that took this path, it seems to have garnered local attention and leveraged resources in a new way that may impact outcomes.” By elevating the issue to a civic emergency, the organization found, declarations “increase the ability to quickly raise local funding for immediate action, and provide a tool to remove significant legal barriers [such as] zoning requirements and procurement rules.”

BC law also allows ‘emergencies’

British Columbia legislation also permits the declaration of a “State of Local Emergency” in its law of the same name. Like the federal Stafford Act in the United States, B.C.’s law stipulates that the emergency declaration must be linked to a natural or physical disaster. U.S. cities interpreted that creatively, using their own authority and bylaws to declare a state of emergency within their borders. “We declared a state of emergency for housing and homelessness in Portland because our housing prices, unfortunately, are rising faster than any other U.S. city and we have, like other West Coast cities, a big population of homeless people in crisis,” said former Portland mayor Charlie Hales, while he was still in office. “The combination of those two things led us to say, ‘This is an emergency, let’s be real about that, put in some new money, try new things, and move quickly against this set of problems.’” While 4,000 people still sleep in shelters or on Portland streets, that number could have been much higher. In the last year, the city and its county of Multnomah served 25,561 people with emergency shelter, permanent placements and prevention programs — the most ever. Hales said that the city set aside some land-use regulations — around traffic, parking and design — for the purpose of encouraging shelter for the homeless. Basic fire and life-safety issues in building codes went untouched. “Obviously that creates some nervousness in neighbourhood activists, but we haven’t had a lot of friction over that,” he adds. The city was able to quickly build a new shelter several weeks after announcing the emergency. But waiving regulations was less of a focus than committing resources and funding. The city promised to spend roughly US$600 million over a decade for affordable housing. “That’s necessary,” Hales said, “that we throw a lot of money at the problem, hopefully in a thoughtful and efficient way.”

‘Emergencies’ made a difference

Portland and Multnomah County have exceeded their service goals since declaring their state of emergency. Even though it came into effect only in late 2015, city agencies still helped 4,147 people find shelter that year, nearly 500 more than the 3,575 that had been their goal. Last year, they put 4,603 people in permanent housing, exceeding an updated target by 24 per cent. Since 2015, roughly three-quarters of the people helped were still permanently housed after 12 months. The city and county also added 1,884 beds to its emergency shelters, bringing their capacity to 6,644. Marc Jolin is the initiative director for Multnomah County. He serves on A Home for Everyone, a joint collaboration between the county, cities of Portland and Gresham, and Home Forward, Portland’s housing authority. His job is to keep a 10-year plan to end homelessness on track. States of emergency work best, Jolin says, when plenty of groundwork’s been done to prepare for them. Portland had a housing action plan, a healthcare action plan, and a “vetted strategy” that it could move on quickly once the emergency declaration provided some political will. “For me, the state of emergency really created opportunity to move towards these goals a lot more quickly than we imagined,” Jolin says. He credits the state of emergency for prompting Portland to pledge enough of its own funds to create the 560 shelter beds added to the city’s system immediately after the emergency was declared. “I think different mayors have come to the state of emergency in different ways, with different things in mind about what they want to accomplish,” Jolin says. “Our mayor’s focus was pretty inward. “It wasn’t, ‘We want the federal government to do something,’ or ‘We’re trying to send a signal.’ It was, ‘How can we rally ourselves locally to do more about this?’”

Unintended consequences

What communities do with a state of emergency differs from city to city. In Seattle, advocates became worried about unhelpful consequences. To address core homelessness, the city allowed more authorized tent cities. It even provided some funding to administer them. But 10 months after the declaration, advocacy organizations raised concerns about the city’s continued “removals” of unsheltered people and their belongings from other street encampments. The American Civil Liberties Association of Washington, the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness and Columbia Legal Services were among the groups that complained that the ongoing encampment sweeps often simply displaced people who would return to the site from which they’d been “removed” because they had few other options. Yurij Rudensky is a lawyer with the non-profit Columbia Legal Services, which provides civil legal aid in Seattle. He says the state of emergency did free up funding for the homeless there. But more sweeps happened too. “What we know is a state of emergency was declared, and the volume of sweeps increased.” His colleague, Ann LoGerfo, says the city stepped up its sweeps of unauthorized informal encampments, dismantling as many as 600 in 2015, and conducting operations on four days a week during most of 2016. “You have a few hundred more [shelter] beds,” LoGerfo says. “But you have 3,000-plus on the streets on top of those already in shelter. So there’s still an enormous number of people outside.” LoGerfo says Seattle may have hoped to secure more support from senior governments, “but it didn’t really happen.” Her caution to a city that declares a state of shelter emergency is to make sure that funding is in place to get things done.

Human, but still a disaster

But whatever specific plan and source of funds emerge, advocates argue that the human emergency on city streets needs to be taken just as seriously as a natural disaster.“What we said to the city at the time the state of emergency was declared was, ‘Treat it like a true emergency,’” Seattle’s LoGerfo says. “If there was an earthquake, all sorts of things would have been made available to the people who were victims of the emergency, so why aren’t those things being made available to the homeless if it’s a homeless state of emergency? Why aren’t community centres opened?” Rudensky echoes LoGerfo, noting that in a natural disaster setting, public facilities get repurposed, “and that is something that we did not see done during this declaration.” If a big portion of our housing stock was, God forbid, destroyed one way or another,” he says, “I don’t think in that state of emergency the city would be enforcing the no-camping ordinance, and keeping all the public spaces clear, in such a strict way.” A clearly identified individual who advocates for the initiative can help partner agencies and governing bodies stay on target. That person should have experience in homelessness issues and be ready to consult with people in precarious housing situations. Jolin, for example, helps keep Portland, its surrounding county and neighbouring cities all on the same page. Less than seven percent of his US$43 million budget goes to office operations though. The rest pays for contracted social workers and homeless support services. The job is inevitably political, he says, because, “I am trying to align the perspectives and directives of multiple [elected officials] and multiple jurisdictions around this” priority. But transparency and accountability also come with the job. “We’re much better off telling it like it is,” Jolin says. “In part because it is so much in the public eye, there’s so much scrutiny. People want to understand, if we’re having so much success housing people, why is it still so bad outside?”

Ombudsperson for the homeless

In Montreal, Mayor Denis Coderre last April named Serge Lareault as the city’s first “protector of the homeless.” It’s a position that functions much like an ombudsperson for the homeless at the municipal level. Coderre had the idea when he met with the City of Vancouver’s now retired homeless advocate, Judy Graves. Lareault started in the field more than 20 years ago, working with a group of social workers and homeless people, and founding the street paper L’Itineraire in 1994. He has also worked with the International Network of Street Papers, of which L’Itineraire is a member. (Disclosure: so is Megaphone, the Vancouver street paper where I’m managing editor). “For the mayor,” Lareault says, “it became important to have at the city administration [level] a person in charge to assure the citizenship and consideration of the homeless. I hope to be able to influence the creation of an ambitious action plan, and convince the government of Quebec [to make] a major investment in homelessness and poverty.” His position in Montreal’s Social Diversity Service department pays Lareault $92,125 a year from its $2 million budget, and has a three-year mandate. He spends much of his time talking with people living without a home, “to be sure that the point of view of the homeless is taken in consideration,” Lareault says. But he’s also meant to analyze the needs of 3,000 unsheltered people, recommend services to help them, and align police, municipal courts and administrators around helping the vulnerable population. He and his boss have one other objective. “The vision of the mayor is to create my position and encourage the government of Quebec to do the same,” Lareault says. The role could be more effective, he believes, if it were able to influence how homeless people are treated across all provincial ministries. While declaring a state of emergency won’t solve homelessness by itself, it could be the spark needed to build the support and shelter required to deliver on one of the most basic human rights. When invoking the “E” word, it’s essential to have a plan, a mission advocate, and funding lined up from somewhere. But it’s perhaps most important to treat the housing crisis with just as much urgency as any other disaster.

Toronto’s seniors are at high risk of ending up homeless, report finds. Lack of services and difficult to navigate programs identified as the main problems.
The Star, April 14, 2017
By Emily Mathieu

Toronto’s seniors are at increasingly high risk of eviction and homelessness, because of a lack of easily accessible and age-specific supports, according to a new report. “We need a better overall picture of where people are falling through the cracks of the whole housing support system and the eviction prevention process, as it currently exists,” said Katie Plaizier, interim programs director for the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation, and project manager. The report, Evictions of Senior Tenants in the GTA: A Call to Action to Curtail An Emerging Crisis, was produced through conversations, surveys and focus groups with seniors, dozens of agencies working or advocating on their behalf and with financial support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. What they found, said Plaizier, was not only a lack of senior-specific services, but also that any supports or programs that are available are difficult to find or navigate. The authors defined seniors as people age 50 and older, for the study. The report details a long list of programs and services that need to be started and then adopted by various levels of government, particularly when it comes to existing rental rules in Ontario. Those solutions include projects to educate seniors and private landlords on the needs of aging tenants, embedding senior-specific protections in any new rental regulations, cities working with the province to create “flexible emergency grants” for seniors facing evictions, and more collaboration between cities and health care providers. Earlier this month, the federal government pledged to do more for seniors at risk of losing their housing, during the announcement of the creation of a $5 billion national housing fund, part of the forthcoming national housing strategy. The intent, the government said, is to make sure vulnerable people, including seniors, find or keep good homes. What makes seniors particularly vulnerable is isolation. In Toronto, four out of 10 people who are 85 and older lived alone, according to the report. By 2041, seniors are expected to make up almost 25 of the population in the city, the authors write. A total of 72 tenants, between the ages of 45 and 90, participated in the survey. Of that group, 42 per cent said they would not know who to call if they received an eviction notice. Most, or 93 per cent, said while they could attend a hearing at the Landlord and Tenant Board, most of them would not be comfortable without an advocate. One issue managed by the tenant board is debates over above-guideline-rent increases at older buildings, which are often populated by senior tenants. Sebastienne Incorvaia, 63, fears losing her home because of above-guideline increases at her building at 87 Jameson Ave., in Parkdale. She lives off a disability pension, every dollar is stretched and a friend helps cover rent. “If it wasn’t for the fact that I was getting help I don’t know if I would be able to be in that apartment,” she said. The owner of the building has said the rent increase is justified and would meet individually with tenants to talk about solutions. Project manager Plaizier said a key issue is the lack of data on the reasons people are losing their homes. “Currently there is no overall system or strategy in place to capture who is being evicted,” she said. The Landlord and Tenant Board, the authors wrote, should amend eviction applications to include an age-related field — largely to facilitate data collection — and should employ a coordinator strictly for senior tenants to make sure they have the supports they need to proceed fairly through a hearing. The board should also, they wrote, provide more education for adjudicators and make eviction data available to the public, to better inform change. There are some numbers on how interventions tailored to seniors can keep people housed. Cynthia Summers is the Commissioner of Housing Equity, with Toronto Community Housing. The office is funded by TCH, but is entirely arms-length and was created following the death of 82-year-old Al Gosling, who was evicted by community housing after a paperwork mix-up resulted in him owing rent. After his eviction he stayed in a stairwell, then a shelter, before becoming gravely ill and dying in hospital. Summers said between December 2016 and September 2014, the office managed 382 cases involving seniors about to be evicted from community housing, many for non-payment of rent. Just 17 were forced to leave, she said. Working with seniors can mean everything from helping them find extra income through tax relief or funds owed to veterans, helping them access support and health services, to improving financial literacy, she said. “People are afraid to work with their landlord and sometimes the landlords aren’t very good at the interpersonal skills, or the soft skills,” needed to navigate those types of cases, she said. “We really pride ourselves on making tenants feel comfortable.” Mary Hynes, with the Toronto Seniors Forum, said women who are suddenly widowed are particularly vulnerable, because in many cases their spouses handled the money, or provided income through better pensions. There is a huge chunk of especially who were doing adequately well and suddenly find themselves in poverty and have no idea what to do,” she said. “They don’t know where to turn, where their resources are because some of them are practically hidden.”