Historically speaking, responses to homelessness in Canada have been formed most directly at the local level, most often led by faith-based, volunteer-driven charitable organizations with long histories of serving low-income and unhoused individuals and families. These local and informal voluntary landscapes typically provided basic stopgap services such as emergency shelter and meal programs to homeless populations. Until the late 1980s, these voluntary landscapes operated largely outside the purview of provincial and federal governments (Wolfe & Jay, 1993); however, during the 1990s, as housing crises worsened and shelters became overburdened by a growing and increasingly diverse homeless population and as funding regimes evolved, these voluntary landscapes of care underwent a significant re-configuration shifting from a ‘patchwork’ of crisis-relief programs largely operating in isolation to a more ‘seamless’ network of outcome-orientated programs focused on moving individuals from the street to the shelter and into independent housing. An emergent priority in this re-configured system has been both increased inter-agency coordination and the targeting of services to chronically homeless individuals with complex needs living in the shelter system. In addition, this re-configuration has relied upon collaborative planning and local partnerships between local government and voluntary organizations.
In this chapter, we use a case study to conceptualize this form of local coordination, a form of governance we call community-based managerialism (CBM), and assess its impacts on the local voluntary sector. Our case study is based on research that chronicled how local actors (municipal officials, voluntary sector organizations) responded to the burgeoning crisis of homelessness in Hamilton, Ontario between 1999 and 2009. The research combined a number of qualitative methods, including interviews and document analysis, to gather multiple perspectives on the experience of homeless people, the experiences of government and voluntary sector actors involved in service provision and the evolution of social policies aimed at addressing homelessness in the city.