Housing first, but affordable housing last: The Harper government and homelessness

Not the draconian character that many homelessness activists feared, Stephen Harper has a mixed record on homelessness and affordable housing. On one hand, he unexpectedly came to support evidence-based policy innovations such as Housing First, and is encouraging local communities to gather better data on the chronically homeless population through a nationally coordinated point-in-time count in January 2016. On the other hand, and more importantly, he continues to fail to acknowledge the federal government’s key role in addressing the affordable housing crisis in Canada. Housing First is a successful and promising intervention to end homelessness, but its success can be undermined by two things: a lack of adequate funding for the program itself and a lack of investments in affordable housing. Since taking the helm in 2006, PM Harper’s record on homelessness is characterized by incremental policy changes to existing programs launched by his predecessors, accompanied by scaled back funding in critical areas, such as the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS). The Harper Decade, therefore, has been one of a holding pattern, which serves to manage homelessness without making any meaningful progress towards ending it.

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