Ontario Government Restores Some Funding for Homelessness Prevention

It will be critical in the months to come to continue to impress upon the provincial government and those vying to become Premier that cutting critical social programs will result in huge costs to individuals and society.

By Tom Cooper
Published December 28, 2012

Lost Causes are worth fighting for! With four days to go before the outright elimination of a critical provincial program aimed at preventing homelessness for individuals living in deep poverty, the Ontario government announced a significant portion of funding would be maintained.

An additional $3.19 million has been earmarked to address homelessness in Hamilton for 2013. It is one-time funding, diverted from other provincial government savings, but it is nevertheless an important concession by the provincial government to maintain what many communities believe are essential programs.

For the most vulnerable residents of Hamilton and other Ontario communities, the fight for this lost cause is not over. It is a momentary victory for the little guys, but nobody is celebrating yet.

The funding is still less than 2012's allocation; however, it is certainly not as devastating as would have been the case had communities across the province not taken action.

We can perhaps breathe a momentary sigh of relief in the realization that community-based action can be effective.

Community Organizing

The Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) - which provides municipalities with funding to assist individuals on social assistance to find and retain affordable housing and prevent homelessness - was due to be axed on January 1st as part of the province's 'austerity' measures from the 2012 budget.

The City of Hamilton had agreed to continue funding the program for a six month period - but was not in a position to sustain the costs indefinitely.

Recognizing that Hamilton was not facing this crisis alone, two weeks ago, the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction (HRPR) and Hamilton Organizing for Poverty Elimination (HOPE) invited twelve community-based organizations from across Ontario meet at Hamilton City Hall to strategize and mobilize.

By the end of the day, a Joint Statement [PDF] had been issued to the government, opposition leaders and Liberal Leadership candidates to demand these devastating cuts not take place.

Community groups were unified in their belief that if the cuts were to happen, vulnerable residents would be placed at even greater risk. CSUMB is often utilized to assist individuals and families on social assistance with first or last month's rent, for utility arrears or if a home becomes unsafe due to health hazards (such as bedbugs or mould).

At a time when hundreds of women are being turned away from shelters, CSUMB is also often the only available program available for women and children fleeing domestic violence to relocate to a new, safe residence.

There is little doubt, the cuts would have forced people already in precarious housing into homelessness.

Making the Case

The groups that came together at City Hall from Windsor, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Brantford, Niagara, Peel, Halton, York, Toronto, Peterborough and Belleville were unified in their call that the Provincial government needed to put the brakes on, and reconsider the cuts that were announced in the 2012 budget.

Along with the joint statement, an 'Ontario Communities Unite' Facebook page was launched and community groups across the province mobilized. From sleep-outs in front of MPP offices, to meetings with community leaders and a bold social media presence - communities took action, and the provincial government heard the call.

Maintaining housing is far more cost effective than dealing with homelessness once it becomes a reality. It will be critical in the months to come to continue to impress upon the provincial government and those vying to become Premier that cutting critical social programs will result in huge costs to individuals and society.

Social service costs do not belong on the municipal tax base - it is a regressive way to fund human services because cities with higher needs are burdened with higher costs.

While a significant portion of CSUMB funding was retained, another program of discretionary health benefits that enables individuals on social assistance to promote health and retain dignity has not been funded - services such as dentures, eyeglasses, prosthetics, funeral services and baby supplies remain at risk. We'll continue to make that case.

Tom Cooper is the Director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.


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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted December 28, 2012 at 17:07:46

For some reason, I'm reminded of Malcolm X's "If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there's no progress."

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted December 28, 2012 at 19:35:20

So let us look at what the liberal government has done, under mcQuinty's leadership, in the name of poverty reduction. After all the changes that the Harris government did back in 1995, nothing has changed, in fact it has gotten worse by thse who spread the PR that we care about those who struggle, meanwhile, they got the scissors out and cut, cut, cut.

Their claim to reduce poverty by 25% in five years did not happen. They took away the winter clothing allowance, the back to school allowance, they cut the special diet, so that people got considerably less then before. They revamped the Ontario Chld Benefit, so families got less then they did before.

Now the discretionary benefits, which have been cut, are still not funded and this announcement only brings a portion of the CSUMB money to the city. What about those who will not get help, as the benefit is not funded as before, are they to be condered collerate damage and their lies not worth a hill of beans, in the big picture?

It was clear at this meeting that the voices of those who struggle was clearly missing, as the majority of the panelists, do not lie in poverty and rely on funding programs to keep thier jobs intact. After almost five hours of listening to them say we need more reports, more analysis, the reality is that it is getting worse in the streets for those who are vulnerable. Those low income who came out, finally just started to speak out, since they were not included in the discussion, period.

We also should pay careful attention to this Social Assistance Review as well because there appears to be a concerted affort to get those who are on disability to work, possibly in workfare conditions. Since Health and Safety issues are hard fought for, many workers in the precarious or temp work market find themselves being terminated if they dare to fight for these rights under legislated law.

It should also be noted that groups like OCAP and CUPE have been out for many, many moonths before this table got on board, holding clinics and townhalls, in an effort to mmobilize the people affected into action, direct action.

Given the press release yesterday by the Roundtable, in which they used the words, commended the government for giving some of the money back for one time funding, it sounds a lot like they are brown nosing and it negates all the cuts that have been made in the years before.

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By Tom_Cooper (registered) - website | Posted December 29, 2012 at 08:35:13 in reply to Comment 84520

I hear Mel and SCRAP's concerns, but practically we are talking about ensuring there are funds available so people have options - and don't end up homeless. If it takes some government ass kissing to ensure vulnerable residents aren't on the street in January I'll pucker up...

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 31, 2012 at 14:19:48 in reply to Comment 84528

Prior to 1996, Canada had both generous social programs and strong industrial growth...

Now, we have record household debt and expanded food bank lines.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted January 02, 2013 at 08:25:17 in reply to Comment 84588

Before and afta NAFTA?

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By MyNeighbourhoodIsDying (anonymous) | Posted December 29, 2012 at 01:15:04

Anything downloaded to the municipality will become "discretionary", even funeral expenses. This means if your worker is having a good day, you might get funded. If he or she is having a bad day, you probably won't. You might be unlucky to have the worker in the office that always says NO to everything. This is all arbitrary, no longer based on even the slimmest guidelines, and are not subject to appeal. People in need will definitely fall through the cracks. Our police department always wants more money than their budget calls for, so council crumbles under their weight, and will certainly cut more and more of these "discretionary" programs in the future. Because of the "discretionary" nature of these programs, I heard on good authority that ANY municipality can take the money and use it for some other priority, as long as it remotely relates to housing, e.g. repairing social housing units. They don't even have to offer ANY discretionary programs. In fact, many municipalities have exercised their discretion not to. And among those that do, the money seems to mysteriously run out in May or June, and too bad, so sad, if you are homeless. You have to wait until April before we can help you again.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted December 29, 2012 at 12:24:07

The lack of funding for the poor and destitute is not only appalling but borders on the criminal. Three million dollars in the budget of the province is less than a drop in the proverbial bucket. Putting 10 times that amount towards the same cause would not make a noticeable difference in the budget but would really help the people that need it.

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By ahamiltonguy (anonymous) | Posted December 29, 2012 at 20:24:50

Social spending of this kind isn't meant to benefit these people. That's just a facade. It's meant to give the poor their bread so that they don't cause trouble to get at their bread. Imagine the havoc if the poor in Hamilton didn't get the assistance.

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted December 29, 2012 at 23:42:29

Well, ahamiltonguy, that was mentioned by one of the speakers at the meeting, close down all the foodbanks. Some poor people have expressed that as well through the years.

There would be a revolt!

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By dEVILS advocate (anonymous) | Posted January 01, 2013 at 10:34:31

Why do we encourage even more poverty in our failing city?Here's part of the answer.The poverty industry itself is the main growth industry in Hamilton.We encourage poverty to migrate here, with free start up funds,free furniture and free illegal apts.Toronto investers are buying downtown properties and importing their tenants from out of town to live in illegal apts they have created and their tenants then receive all the perks provided by the local tax payers.For some reason city hall thinks its agood idea(?). We also provide subsidized housing for other perpetual incompetants, so they can live inside the bubble of unmet goals and failed dreams.These troughers will never leave since they can live out their ongoing pretensions with impunity, on the taxpayers dime.Poverty is the new steel,(did I spell steal correctly?)Lets continue to help those truly in need and stop importing more taxpayer liabilities .

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