More than 260,000 Canadians experience homelessness annually: report | Power & Politics


As we jump into a new year of concerns surrounding housing and affordability Canada continues to Grapple with a post-pandemic surge in homelessness the Canadian Alliance to end homelessness estimates between 260,000 to 300,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a given year cold snaps across the country are making the crisis more acute cities

Are struggling to deal with a growing number of tent encampments amid concerns for safety sweek power in politics is digging into the root causes and the potential solution for homelessness in Canada we continue our coverage today with a panel of Canadian Mayors on what they’re doing to combat homelessness in

Their cities Josh Morgan is the mayor of London Ontario and Lindsey Clark is the mayor of Medicine Hat Alberta thank you Mayors both for joining me today great to be here thank you for having us uh so Lindsay clerk I want to start with you because Medicine Hat is

Unique it was the first Canadian city to declare it had functionally ended chronic homelessness in 2021 now I know you’ve run into some challenges since since that declaration but help help us see what that looked like I know it was a housing first approach what what did

You do to uh get rid of homelessness at least temporarily yeah so the main focus was to get people housed so if people were experiencing uh homelessness uh getting them into a a facility or a home where they could feel um safe and secure and then work on the other underlying issues

That um contributed to them becoming homeless and and we have a very well integrated approach all of our social servicing agencies are are coordinated um through the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society and um you know working together collaborating with all of the different aspects of of um that contribute to homelessness

Is is really key and being driven by by data and making sure that we know um where the gaps are and how to fill them so unfortunately the status didn’t last for very long just a few months time if I understand correctly why was that well um it’s it’s really a

Situation where we’re probably never going to eliminate uh homelessness entirely and you know more recently we’re experiencing a bunch of factors that uh we didn’t have uh in in the time when we declared functional zero uh affordability is a huge issue housing Supply and then of course mental health and addictions is

Is a huge issue across Canada and those all contribute to the complexity of getting people housed and um staying housed now Josh Morgan May of London Ontario I want to bring you in here because I’m I’m sure that a lot of those things about affordability addiction mental health are familiar challenges in

London uh right now London has about 300 people living in over 70 encampments across the city your city is trying a different way of addressing homelessness describe what that model looks like yeah first off we recognize that homelessness is a complex issue that has uh multifaceted cities and we need to drive

Unit creation affordable units across the city uh we know that there are those people who just can’t afford a home and so we’ve done our best to ramp up the creation of rent geared towards income housing uh within our housing Corporation we’re building new housing within our uh social housing corpor for

The first time in 50 years that deals with General affordability but critically in our city are those who have significant mental health addictions and health issues who are on our streets people who regular shelters cannot take because the complex uh the complex situations in their lives that

That uh that put them on the streets and keep them there so we gathered together the community and created a new whole of community approach and response to try to deal with this which essentially drives for those who are the most comp Le Lex in our city the most marginalized

A series of low barrier hubs where they can get both respit beds and transitional beds that leads into support of housing so the types of housing that has wraparound service supports right built into it where you can get access to um Medical Care Mental Health Services addiction supports Justice Services uh income and

Employment services uh all of those wrapped around the individuals uh in both the hubs based model as well as the Supportive Housing based model and we’re already seeing mendous results after opening um just some of the spaces that we strive that we’re Desiring to open uh

Over the next little while I want to talk about the push back to those hubs in a minute but when you say we’re seeing tremendous results can you give me one concrete example that shows this is working yeah absolutely so in one of the Supportive Housing um uh facilities that

We opened in partnership with our hospitals and a homelessness organization called lenon cares we opened 24 beds with wraparound service supports uh those individuals consumed a tremendous amount of Health Healthcare resources in our community uh between October and December of a year before they were in in the uh Supportive

Housing they had 103 visits to emergency room collectively after they got into the Supportive Housing over the same period this year with those proper supports they they used Emergency Services only 29 times wow so tremendously less when you have the proper supports wrapped around individuals you can take strain off of

Not only the hospital system the emergency rooms but also land ambulance police contacts and impacts on business is and so those are the results that we’re starting to see but we’re just really at the start of opening these spaces and and transforming people’s lives but also removing impacts from the

Community that have been here uh for a long time yeah well and do let me ask you about that because uh from what I understand some of the folks in your community are um not everyone is on board with the idea of all of these hubs they’re worried that because they’re

Spread throughout the city it’s actually going to spread some of these problems in other neighborhoods what is your response well services are solutions and and everywhere you see a service put in people’s lives are improved uh we’re not opening encampments across the city we’re opening coordinated services with

Models of care and proper supports built around them that actually take people who are having very challenging situations in their lives provide them with the supports they need to be successful and at ultimately and that’s just one example that I gave earlier we’re actually impacting the whole

Community in a positive way by taking strain off a system and getting people the care they need in the way that they need needed in the spaces they needed at the end of the day there are people who are doing uh drugs on our street who are suffering who are who are medically

Challenged um and now they’re indoors with proper supports getting the the services they need and and and I think londoners are starting to see the proof of concept here again we have much more to do but at the end of the day this is helping the most marginalized in our

Community it is difficult work it is challenging there are many assumptions get wrapped around this that that people have but once people learn more about it is what it is once people see the results uh leners are becoming more and more supportive of helping their friends neighbors Sons daughters and others who

Are suffering on their on our streets mayor Clark I want to bring you back in here I mean you gave us a list of a number of issues that are making it challenging um to to address this right affordability mental health uh addiction I mean the toxic drug crisis is being

Felt in so many places in Canada on that issue in particular and I know both of you Mayors are are dealing with that um what what could be done what is the most important thing that uh could be done within communities other levels of government to try

To address that piece of the puzzle as it relates to homelessness yeah so with respect to the health issues in particular the mental health and and the addiction piece um we uh that that’s a a an issue with a solution you you provide the health care

That people need uh if you were you know an older adult ad and you were experiencing Alzheimer’s your options wouldn’t be you know learn how to live independently or hit the streets we have an entire system of of long-term care and complex care uh facilities that um are available for situations like that

And and while you know long-term care is available to you know any age or or type of care need the the current facilities just aren’t set up to deal with the types of complex addiction and mental health issues that are leading to homelessness so uh that’s a gap in terms

Of our our health care System right now that I think you know uh as we move forward we’re hoping to collaborate with provincial and federal government to to focus on that issue and make sure that um people who have health needs are getting treated for their health needs

In a facility where they can feel safe and secure that is a home for them how hard is it to get everybody on the same page I mean in theory we would say well of course this is something where we would hope and expect that all levels of

Government would be aligned they want to try to address these issues knowing too that there are longer term costs right um but but when you’re actually in the rooms how hard is it to get everybody on the same page well I think everyone’s on the same page that there’s an issue it’s just

Who’s responsible and I mean the housing Supply issue is a a really great example so municipalities have kind of received the downloading of providing those services and you know uh we donated some land to Medicine Hat Community Housing Society so that they could build some affordable units but

You know in the 70s and 80s the federal government really took the lead on on housing Supply and and making sure that there were uh sufficient uh affordable houses whether through cooperatives or public housing that uh we could meet the needs of Canadians May Morgan you want to get in here

I do I so I want to say two things one I I think housing is a form of health care we we talk about health and homelessness and supporting people in housing together because we know when people can’t afford housing when they get put on the streets that often leads to

Conditions that that cause drug addiction or mental health challenges it’s not that people are getting kicked out of their their homes because they have these challenges it’s that they develop because they’re suffering on our streets and those are difficult conditions to live in uh this requires a

Whole of government approach uh we’re in areas of responsibility here where municipalities are facing the impacts but I agree with the mayor uh that the health care uh responsibility is is another level of government and that is why I’m very proud of our hospitals being at the table in the discussions

About the system that we’re cry trying to create we’re in constant dialogue with both the federal and provincial Partners on how they can help and often how this works is the federal government can help us partner on Capital the provincial government can help us partner on uh healthc care operating

Costs to provide some of the wraparound Services supports Within These uh Supportive Housing uh facilities which are health care services for the most part and the municipality can coordinate all this and participate in both sides so I I pressures on a syst which always

Fall at the local level uh I I do we just have a moment left I’d love to get a quick closing thought from both of you um about if other communities are listening to this right now and they’re sort of leaning in listening to both of you describe what your communities have

Been doing what is the single most important thing you would say to other communities as they try to address um this question of homelessness in their communities M Clark I’ll start with you I I think it’s really important to take a systems approach and recognize you know who’s responsible for what so

That uh and driven by data so that you you know what your gaps are and then you can work to fill those gaps and uh we really it is a an issue that involves every level of government it involves our social servicing uh sectors and so one of the

Things that we did recently is hold a summit and business Community was there and the social servicing and levels different levels of government so that we can have these conversations and start working towards Solutions I I should ask you uh mayor Clark I’d be remiss not to given what we see that’s

Playing out in Edmonton right now in the back and forth between the province and the city um did did you ever experience any kind of push back from the The Province when you embarked on on your own efforts no uh we you know obviously things come down to Dollars sometimes so

We we don’t always get you know the money that we’re seeking but certainly uh in terms of the recognition of that there’s an issue and you know working with Alberta Healthcare Services and the provincial government you know they’re very willing to come to the table uh it’s just about problem solving and

Working towards the solutions that uh everyone uh involved buys into okay uh and mayor Morgan a closing thought from you what folks can learn from London Ontario I first I’d say you have to learn by doing um no difficult or complex challenge is solved by sitting

On the sidelines and waiting for it to be solved and that often requires collaboration partnership and and taking a realization of the resources that and support that you have in your community and the Partnerships required to do it but you ultimately at the end of the day

You have to start taking one step forward before you solve a solution and I think we often are paralyzed by the enormity of the challenges that we we wait too long to act okay thank you both for your time and your insights today really appreciate it thank you thank you very much for

Having us Josh Morgan is mayor of London Ontario and Lindsey Clark is mayor of Medicine Hat Alberta

Amid concerns surrounding housing and affordability, Canada is also struggling with an increase in homelessness. The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that between 260,000 and 300,000 people experience homelessness in a given year. London, Ont., Mayor Josh Morgan and Medicine Hat Mayor Linnsie Clark share how their cities are tackling the crisis.

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