End Homelessness St. John’s (EHSJ) is the system-planning organization for the homeless-serving sector in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. In that capacity, EHSJ plays a central coordinating role and funds important initiatives pertaining to long-term planning.
In 2014, EHSJ unveiled the St. John’s Community Plan to End Homelessness 2014-2019; earlier this year, Nick Falvo Consulting was engaged to both assess that Plan and help EHSJ move forward with their next Plan.
Here are 10 things to know:
- The 2014-19 Plan helped lay the groundwork for a range of housing and supports. These include: an Intensive Case Management program, launched in January 2016; the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing program, focusing on prevention, launched in October 2017; and three Permanent Supportive Housing projects. Nevertheless, community members have articulated the need for more sustainable housing situations. Stakeholders in the sector have been particularly clear about the need for more supportive housing, more low-barrier shelter capacity, and more harm reduction services.
- Exciting governance changes are happening in the St. John’s homeless-serving sector. EHSJ historically leaned on community partners for both advisory and governance decisions. Naturally, that led to conflicts of interest that precipitated a new governance direction. Moving forward, EHSJ is transitioning from being under the umbrella of the City of St. John’s into its own non-profit—a transition that will formally take effect in 2019-20. The new EHSJ will be led by a new Executive Director position (hired in March 2019), governed by an independent board of directors, and advised by the community through its new Community Advisory Board.
- Recent increases in federal funding for homelessness have made a very important difference to St. John’s homeless-serving sector. The federal budgets for 2016 and 2017 respectively led to Canada-wide increases in funding for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (which has since been renamed Reaching Home). This translated into an additional $1,046,138 for St. John’s homeless-serving sector over a three-period. Put differently, for the five-year period of the St. John’s Plan, St. John’s received 30% more federal homelessness funding than anticipated at the Plan’s outset.
- The corrections sector in Newfoundland and Labrador creates problems for homelessness. The assessment of the 2014-19 Plan uncovered that inmates in St. John’s are often discharged into homelessness. It is very difficult for a discharged inmate to go directly into housing, in part because landlords want to meet with the tenant before agreeing to sign a rental agreement. It is also very challenging for inmates to see online ads for apartments while in jail. Discharge planning in provincial correctional facilities is part of the role of a Classification Officer, but not every inmate sees a Classification Officer while inside. If an inmate requests to see a Classification Officer, it might take one month to do so. Further, the provincial government requires people to have an address before applying for social assistance, and jail does not count as an address. (Hospitals and the child welfare system also discharge people directly into homelessness, and this is discussed in detail in the forthcoming assessment of the 2014-19 Plan).
- Once a youth has left Newfoundland and Labrador’s child welfare system, they can be quite vulnerable to homelessness. Housing secured by such youth is often shared; the youth might rent a room in a house with complete strangers. They might struggle in their dealings with housemates and a landlord. St. John’s has some supportive housing available for youth, but these options are in short supply relative to need. Prior to June 2019, youth in the provincial child welfare system could remain in the group home or under the care of a Youth Services case manager until age 18; but they are now allowed to remain in the child welfare system until 21. Local officials who work in the youth homelessness sector have welcomed these changes and believe they have the potential to reduce youth homelessness.
- The City of St. John’s and EHSJ enjoy a very positive working relationship. The City provides EHSJ with considerable in-kind support, both administratively and operationally. This includes free office space, human resources support, legal support, support with purchasing and procurement, and financial/administrative support. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that the City provides EHSJ with annual in-kind support estimated at $250,000, in addition to an annual cash contribution of $100,000. Going forward, the City has committed to cash contributions in 2019 for $100,000 and in 2020 for $100,000. The City has also supported EHSJ in its new governance structure, supporting EHSJ in seeking the Community Entity status.
- Service providers in St. John’s are having major challenges with software that tracks persons experiencing homelessness. Canada’s federal government created and now supports the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS) software. Many community agencies in St. John’s are using HIFIS 3.8 (an old version of the software), and it has recently come to light that the federal government has reduced its support for HIFIS 3.8 in order to focus on HIFIS 4. It is estimated that it will be at least another year before HIFIS 4 is available to service providers province-wide.
- St. John’s needs more low-barrier shelter capacity. Some people are barred from all emergency shelters in St. John’s. Further, it is common for all emergency shelter beds in the city to be full. Several stakeholders also expressed concern about the reliance on for-profit shelters in St. John’s—nearly 40% of homeless shelter beds in the city are run by for-profit providers, paid for by provincial government. And some for-profit emergency housing options have no overnight staffing despite the fact that they often house high-need clients. There is also a rather formal approval process for being admitted into any St. John’s emergency shelter funded by NL Housing. Sometimes it can take up to a week for a client to gain admission.
- Stakeholders have expressed a strong desire to strengthen Coordinated Access (CA). CA is the triage system used to refer people to housing and homelessness supports. Going forward, most stakeholders want more local organizations to make their housing units and program capacity available for direct referrals. Stakeholders also want to see the CA process become more efficient.
- The most effective objectives and outcomes in a plan to end homelessness are tangible and measurable. The 2014-19 Plan contained six desired outcomes, some including numerical targets (i.e. provide housing and supports for 460 people) and some not (i.e. develop a coordinated homeless-serving system). The assessment found it difficult to measure progress toward outcomes without specific targets. Local stakeholders would like to see more emphasis on key performance indicators in the next Plan.
In sum. A considerable amount of progress has been made in the fight to end homelessness in St. John’s. But more work remains. That future work will be the focus on the 2019-24 Plan, which will be unveiled later this year.