Janet Hope, Assistant Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in Ontario presented on the province’s Affordable Housing Strategy. Hope explained that, in Ontario, most of the population is along the southern border, but that there are many variations in demographics, geography and economy throughout the province, as well as several First Nations communities. Responsibility for housing is at the municipal level.
Poverty reduction is a major focus of the current Ontario government, and its second strategy includes a long-term goal to end homelessness in the province, as well as a client-centered approach. “As systems evolve over time,” Hope said, “they often become very program and legislation-focused, and you lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing.” Moving to a client-centered, outcome-oriented approach is an attempt to counteract that. The province is also focused on developing a framework that allows for local flexibility.
Hope explained that, under the previous funding system, providers were incentivized to keep people in emergency shelters rather than moving them into stable housing, because they received funding based on how many people used the shelter each day. The new strategy marks a shift in which organizations can use their allocated funding in whatever way they deem appropriate, as long as they’re meeting the objectives to assist people who are homeless to become stably housed and prevent at-risk populations from becoming homeless.
One challenge in measuring success is that the total number of homeless people in Ontario is unknown – the only data we have, Hope explained, is on the number of people who stay in shelters. This doesn’t reflect the diversity of people experiencing housing challenges, and we need to track housing stability better in order to set a baseline. Through developing its Affordable Housing Strategy, the government has also learned more about the heterogeneity of Ontario populations, and how the legacy of the residential school system has affected the experience of homelessness.
Hope noted that there is still work to be done in managing transitions for individuals who age out of the child welfare system, as well as for those leaving correctional institutions or hospitals. She explained that the province’s Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, updated during the past year, also identifies housing and employment as key supports. In both strategies, there is an increasing awareness that we must work collaboratively across sectors and levels of government, which requires time and investment.