Hot! Homelessness: Ontario’s $21 million cut likely to leave more people without a roof

TheStar.com – news/gta
October 18, 2012.   Daniel Dale, Urban Affairs Reporter

A $21 million provincial cut to homelessness prevention funding in Toronto will make it harder for thousands of poor residents to stay out of shelters, residents and community advocates say.

The biggest chunk of the cut, $12.8 million, is from the province-wide elimination of a benefit program that gave up to $1,500 every two years to families that were facing eviction, in danger of having their utilities cut off, fleeing domestic violence, moving from shelters or unsafe housing, or unable to replace bedbug-infested furniture or broken appliances.

In 2013, Toronto will offer a similar benefit itself — but with far less provincial money available, the city will give priority to the people considered “most vulnerable.” Others may get less or nothing at all.

“The bottom line is that one of the primary tools people have had to help stabilize their tenancies and prevent eviction is gone. So we imagine people will be losing their housing,” said Linsey MacPhee, manager of the Toronto Drop-in Network.

The cut takes effect during a period of high local unemployment and high rents, and as “social assistance rates no longer reflect even the most basic costs of living,” the city says in a report. More than 160,000 people are on the waiting list for affordable housing.

About 70 people opposed to the cut gathered at the downtown St. Stephen’s Community House on Wednesday. Shineeca McLeod, 26, said she could not have left a shoddy basement apartment if the benefit had not covered moving costs and a rent deposit. Dave Cherkewski, 40, said he would have been forced to stay in a group house he shared with a drug dealer.

“Not unless I could find a place that didn’t require last month’s rent,” Cherkewski said. “Which landlord doesn’t require last month’s rent?”

The cut is part of a broader change to provincial homelessness funding that will give cities long-sought flexibility to spend the province’s money as they see fit. Community and Social Services Minister John Milloy said the province is taking a “whole new approach to dealing with housing” that frees municipalities from being “tied down to different rules.”

But he also said he refuses to “whitewash” the fact that the cut was prompted by the province’s “very serious fiscal crisis.” The Liberal minority government faces a deficit of $15 billion.

“Part of what was driving (the cut) — I’ve never hid that fact — was the fact that we simply have to find a way to balance things, particularly in a ministry like ours, where there’s huge pressure with a growing caseload. So it would have been nice not to have done this, but I think it can be explained very much in line with this broader vision,” Milloy said in an interview.

Housing expert and advocate Michael Shapcott, director of housing and innovation for the Wellesley Institute, said “any benefit that could be gained from flexibility is going to be lost because there’s less money.”

Toronto officials estimate that up to 49,000 households can receive some benefits under the new Housing Stabilization Fund next year — just 500 fewer than it expects to receive benefits under the province’s Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) this year. Thousands of people will probably receive smaller payments than they would have under the current system.

“We think that in 2013, the way in which we’ve configured it, we should be able to provide the fund to last through the year. But that’s not certain. I can’t say that with certainty. We’ll have to get experience with it,” said Toronto Employment and Social Services general manager Heather MacVicar.

The province’s benefit has been provided to anyone on welfare or disability payments and who could demonstrate a valid need. Next year, the city will be forced to ration the $25.7 million available, and the city will take into account applicants’ income levels and assets. It will also put a $400-per-family cap on the amount of money available for furnishings.

The disappearance of the provincial benefit will force about 10,000 disability recipients to compete against about 40,000 welfare recipients for money that both groups were previously guaranteed. MacVicar said the city will “take an equitable approach” so that disabled people are not disproportionately disadvantaged.

The benefit cut is accompanied by a $5.5 million provincial cut to four housing programs. The province will no longer provide additional shelter money to the city in the event of an emergency like the 2010fire at 200 Wellesley St. E.

“Unanticipated needs may well arise, and then the city has to make one of two hard choices: pony up local property-tax dollars, which are of course already scarce and fully allocated elsewhere, or secondly, say to people, ‘Tough luck, can’t do anything, you’re on your own,’” Shapcott said.

The Housing Stabilization Fund is intended as a one-year temporary measure. The city will develop a long-term plan for 2014 and beyond, MacVicar said.

The city will get $96 million from the province for homelessness prevention in 2013. In total, according to city officials, the province is giving municipalities only half the money it used to allocate to the benefit program, cutting more than $60 million.

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3 Comments

  1. I do agree with many points within the following article. The CSUMB cut in 2013 will subject many Ontarian’s to live in poverty and produce an increase in homelessness rates as a result. It appals me that this $21 million provincial cut will actually be enforced in the upcoming New Year. This benefit has served as a ‘life-saver’ and a new beginning for many individuals – it has helped individuals pay for things needed when setting up their new home, has helped women and children leave abusive situations and has helped many families move from homes that are unsafe and unhealthy. With the benefit intact, it is still difficult for many Canadians to maintain the sufficient means needed to survive within our current economy. Cutting the CSUMB benefit will only enable poverty and homelessness to persist and grow.
    It is great that Toronto is proposing a benefit as a replacement for the CSUMB cut; however, it can only be accessed by those individuals considered ‘most vulnerable’. I understand that the funding for this benefit will be minimal but this will create a division between people in need. By defining individuals who are most vulnerable and in greater need of financial support, we are returning back to our former years of classifying individuals as the ‘deserving poor’ vs. the ‘undeserving poor’. This is both discriminatory and demeaning.
    “The cut is part of a broader change to provincial homelessness funding that will give cities long-sought flexibility to spend the province’s money as they see fit… the cut was prompted by the provinces ‘very serious fiscal crisis’… the cut is in line with a broader vision”… What is this broader vision? What can be more fitting than to spend money on helping Canadian citizens and possibly eradicating poverty? I feel the government is failing to address the reasons underlying poverty and fails to consider how the current economic crisis (stagflation) interrelates with poverty. The right to food, shelter and clothing is emphasized within the Declaration of Human Rights. However, poverty and homelessness are in direct contrast to this, violating our inherent human rights as Canadian citizens. In taking the CSUMB benefit away, the government is oppressing many Canadians because it is increasing the likelihood of poverty. With a rise in poverty and homelessness rates, this will place a greater responsibility and reliance on non-profitable organizations (re: food banks, shelters, etc.) and the social services industry. Given their minimal funding and support from the government, it is already hard enough for these organizations to help people suffering from poverty/homelessness.
    It is clear that if poverty was eliminated, everyone would benefit. Many organizations and services would not be needed as much and ultimately, the savings from eliminating poverty would be substantial because it would reduce the costs associated with health care, addictions, policing and so on. If there were greater funds given to help those individuals who are financially struggling, their lives would be less stressful because they would actually be able to afford the basic necessities and would reduce their needs in the social services industry. However, it is apparent and disheartening that reducing poverty is not at the forefront of the government’s concerns or priorities, especially when its citizens need their help the most.

  2. Christine Woodhouse

    Stop the cut to Community Start-Up Benefit!
    The CSUMB has been a lifeline for many people who, as a last resort, benefited from such an invaluable program to either get into or stay in their homes or obtain the basic items to maintain a home. Changes to this program is going to affect a significant number of people that have relied on them. There has to be other alternatives to help balance the budget. The elimination of this program is only going to create further gaps, stress, inequalities, etc. between OW/ODSP recipients and the community at large. More people will be put out on the streets and competing to get into already overcrowded shelters, there will be an increase in the amount of people not being able to avoid escaping abusive relationships and there will be an increase in social abandonment. Community agencies are going to receive an overwhelming plea for help, and with the cuts around the major public sectors means there is no additional funding to offset the benefits people, who at one time, could have received from this crucial program.
    Once again, we see our government come down on a population that has already been attacked. In the 1990’s we saw clawbacks through the PC government, where those relying on social assistance watched their monthly incomes get cut by 22% across the board. The recent announcement of the next cutbacks are going to make situations much worse … this is further enabling the current misconceptions between the ‘deserving and undeserving poor’ (when they really need to be ripped apart). Why is the government constantly trying to balance the budget of the province of Ontario on the backs of the most vulnerable people in our society? Whose point of view are the politicians looking at new policy ideas and initiatives? It’s certainly not through the lens of recipients, clients, students, etc., where they should be looking from.

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