Canada – National Strategies to Address Homelessness 

The dramatic growth in homelessness throughout the 1990s did not go unnoticed by citizens, politicians  and the news media. The Government of Canada launched the National Homelessness Initiative in 1999, with an investment of $753 million over three years.  This became the federal secretariat with responsibility for programs addressing homelessness. From the start, the NHI took a very decentralized approach, with the emphasis on providing individual communities with the support they need to respond to homelessness. The NHI was the federal secretariat most directly responsible for homelessness matters.  In 2004, it was renewed for an additional three years (Phase II) with an investment of $405 million.   

Strategic Objectives of the National Homelessness Initiative, as outlined in a 2003 evaluation:

  • Facilitate community capacity by coordinating Government of Canada efforts and enhancing the diversity of tools and resources;
  • Foster effective partnerships and investment that contribute to addressing the immediate and multifaceted needs of people experiencing homelessness and reducing homelessness in Canada; and
  • Increase awareness and understanding of homelessness in Canada.

These objectives were pursued through several key components (Phase II)

  1. The Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative (SCPI)  The SCPI was the largest component of the NHI, and was designed to support communities in building the capacity, resources and incentives to develop and implement comprehensive strategies. 
  2. Urban Aboriginal Homelessness (UAH) This was designed to address the unique needs of the Aboriginal homeless population by providing flexibility in meeting the needs of homeless Aboriginal people through culturally sensitive services.
  3. National Research Program (NRP) focuses on increasing understanding of the magnitude, characteristics and causes of homelessness in Canada. This component was designed to increase the base of policy and community-relevant research, encourage and support research partnerships, and facilitate the sharing of best practices and the transfer of knowledge.
  4. Surplus Federal Real Property for Homelessness Initiative (SFRPHI) was designed to make surplus government property available to community organizations, the not-for-profit sector and other orders of government for projects to help alleviate and prevent homelessness.
  5. Regional Homelessness Fund ( RHF ) designed to support small and rural communities by addressing homelessness issues on a project-by-project basis.  
  6. Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS) Initiative an electronic records management system built as a means to collect information about the population using shelters, while assisting in daily operations such as booking-in and out clients, and reporting on shelter use. 

While most of the components are managed as separate initiatives, the NHI was intended to promote a coordinated federal effort to address homelessness based on common objectives and compatible approaches.

With a change in government in 2006 came a desire to retool the National Homelessness Initiative, which was rechristened Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) .  The HPS adapted and modified most of the program areas of the NHI, and continued the philosophy of supporting community based solutions, relying on “communities to determine their own needs and to develop appropriate projects” .  On the government website, they state that HPS works to prevent and reduce homelessness across Canada through:

  • Investments in transitional and supportive housing through a housing-first approach;
  • Support to community-based efforts to prevent and reduce homelessness;
  • Partnerships between the federal government, provinces, and territories; and
  • Collaboration with other federal departments and agencies.

The HPS has seven funding streams:

Regionally Delivered: 

  • Designated Communities 
  • Outreach Communities 
  • Aboriginal Communities

Nationally Delivered:

  • Federal Horizontal Pilot Projects
  • Homelessness Knowledge Development 
  • Homeless Individuals and Families Information System 
  • Surplus Federal Real Property for Homelessness Initiative 

The Government of Canada has never developed a national plan or strategy to end homelessness, but it does have priorities, though these are not clearly stated in any single document.  Many of these were explored in a national forum hosted by the Government of Canada in 2009.  These include:

  • Housing First
  • Enhancing employment opportunities
  • Developing public/private sector partnerships

The HPS was funded until 2014, with funds remaining at the current level.  Some funds have been diverted from the HKDP (research) envelope to support the ‘outreach’ communities (areas not covered by the designated communities). 

As part of the 2013 Federal budget, it was announced that the Homelessness Partnering Strategy was to be renewed for five years (2014-19).  The annual investment dropped from $134.5 million annually to $119 million.  Central to the renewal was a shift in approach, whereby communities would be expected to adopt a Housing First approach.  Housing First involves giving people who are homeless a permanent place to live and providing them with necessary supports to help them stabilize their lives.