I recently wrote a report, commissioned by the Calgary Homeless Foundation, providing an overview of recent developments in homelessness planning across the following 13 Canadian cities: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Quebec City, Hamilton, Regina, Victoria, St. John’s and Yellowknife.

Here are 10 things to know.

1. Many Canadian cities have seen an increase in visible outdoor sleeping during the COVID-19 pandemic. This stems in part from concerns over disease transmission in congregate settings. On the bright side, however, a technological innovation worthy of attention is the City of Ottawa’s new GIS mapping system, used to both identify encampments and keep case notes pertaining to encampment residents (in order to provide better services).

2. The pandemic has allowed partnerships between the health and homelessness sectors to flourish. For example, a larger share of Toronto’s emergency facilities are seeing primary health care—i.e., service provision by family physicians and nurses—provided on site. Some Toronto shelters are also seeing pharmacists keep regular hours on site. Some Calgary shelters have seen a substantial increase in the use of licensed practical nurses and paramedics on site.

3. There have been very positive examples of Indigenous-led partnerships. An Indigenous-led vaccine clinic in Calgary, which includes the onsite presence of Elders, is worthy of attention. And Indigenous-led testing and vaccine clinics in Winnipeg has been well-received.

4. Harm reduction approaches have been thriving in some cities. “Harm reduction” in this context refers to a deliberate approach to reduce harms associated with drug and alcohol use, without necessarily requiring total abstinence. One example consists of “wellness checks” carried out at Toronto emergency shelters. In Ottawa, supervised consumption services and a safe supply of cannabis are both offered at an isolation site designated for persons experiencing homelessness. Finally, territorial officials in Yellowknife have distribute alcohol at the city’s isolation centre for persons experiencing homelessness.

5. Several cities have expanded eviction prevention programs during the pandemic. This has involved short-term financial assistance to pay a variety of costs allowing households at risk of homelessness to either remain housed or to get rehoused quickly. Such costs can typically include rental arrears, utility arrears, first month’s rent, the securing of damage deposits and moving costs. While the initiatives themselves are not new, the pandemic has given officials reason to use increase funding in order to expand their use.

6. Progress on city-wide triage for homelessness services is mixed. Here I refer to “coordinated access,” which refers to centralized triage prioritizing placement into a variety of housing and related supports. When it comes to progress here, Canadian cities appear to fall into one of the following three categories: 1) those where it is established; 2) those where it is in development; and 3) those that appear to be resisting it.

7. The impact of the Canada Housing Benefit (CHB) varies from one city to another. The CHB consists of financial assistance to help low-income households afford their rent. The benefit was supposed to launch on 1 April 2020; yet, as of May 2021, well-placed homelessness officials in neither St. John’s nor Yellowknife had received any indication as to what was happening with the CHB in their respective jurisdictions.

8. The Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) has generally benefitted homelessness system planning. This federal initiative provides funding for modular housing, the acquisition of land, the conversion of existing buildings into affordable housing, and the reclamation of closed or derelict properties. Ten of the 13 cities considered in the present report had received RHI funding as of May 2021. Supported projects will house both persons currently experiencing homelessness and persons at risk of experiencing homelessness. Many projects are still awaiting word on whether their respective provincial government will provide operating dollars, which will in turn determine what kinds of social work (i.e., ‘wraparound’) support can be provided, and which specific households can be accommodated. The RHI is viewed as being the best federal housing initiative right now to target chronic homelessness.

9. The impact of the National Housing Co-Investment Fund on each city’s homelessness sector has been modest at best. This federal initiative has been criticized for: having an onerous application process; having a lengthy approval procedure; and taking too much time to disburse funding once it is awarded.

10. This report makes seven policy recommendations stemming from its findings. They pertain to the need to: better enumerate outdoor sleeping; showcase promising healthcare practices in the homelessness sector; encourage better cooperation from the corrections sector; support homelessness prevention; promote transparency with respect to the Canada Housing Benefit; provide operating support for the Rapid Housing Initiative; and provide increased grant support toward the National Housing Co-Investment Fund.

In sum. The rise in visible, outdoor sleeping has been challenging for many Canadian cities. Having said that, partnerships with the health sector have generally been very positive, as has been the expansion of eviction prevention initiatives. Several federal housing initiatives have shown promise, but their experience highlights the need for support from all orders of government.

This blog re-post was posted with permission from Nick Falvo. See original post here

The analysis and interpretations contained in this blog post are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.