By Bonnie Moriarty, Managing Director, EFry
Housing First is a US homeless support model gaining popularity in Canada. It’s based on the concept of moving chronically or episodically homeless people directly into permanent housing. Our federal and provincial governments have set aside $6.5 million to provide local agencies in B.C. and nationwide with funding to offer Housing First outreach programs and rent subsidies to enable those eligible for the program to find housing.
At first blush, it sounds great. EFry endorses people going directly into housing and we believe struggles like addiction and mental illness shouldn’t be a barrier to that. However, there are two challenges with the proposed Canadian Housing First model as it relates to homeless women and children.
When people are placed into housing, they are given a temporary rent supplement of up to $300 dollars on top of their social assistance payment. This supplement gives them time to find housing they can afford on standard social assistance or to find a job that will let them stay in their new place. While this approach can work for some, it doesn’t work well for most families.
Metro Vancouver is one of the most expensive housing markets in Canada. Finding housing for families is tough, particularly if multiple bedrooms are needed. Once housed, the next problem is preparing for the supplement’s end. A mom needs to find a way to earn the extra money. She’s not allowed to earn that extra $300 while on standard social assistance. If she works full-time at minimum wage, she’ll make nearly the same amount for herself and her children as on social assistance yet will need to find and pay for their care while she’s at work.
The second problem is the definition of who is eligible – the episodically or chronically homeless. Families that have not cycled in and out of homelessness don’t qualify. So many families have to wait and children have increased trauma till they can meet the definition.
Children need to be in their own home, not in a shelter with noise, lights on, and people struggling with their issues around the clock. Homeless children are more likely to have poorer life outcomes, including becoming homeless adults. Their needs must be prioritized because when it comes to at-risk children, it’s a pay less now or pay more later model of social investment.
At EFry, we’re seeing ever-growing numbers of homeless families and we are turning away over 1000 a year because we’re full. EFry supports increased funding earmarked for housing but we believe in striving for lasting solutions that work for families. Supporting the homeless population must include providing access to resources that will help address their issues and create a solid foundation to build a future on.
Will Housing First be worth the government’s investment? Perhaps for some, but not for our most vulnerable – the children.