We have a homelessness emergency in every part of Ontario

Posted on March 14, 2023 in Inclusion Debates

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TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors
March 14, 2023.   By Colin Best, Brian Rosborough, Contributors

The homelessness crisis in Ontario is not just an unfortunate situation. It is the outcome of decades of policy decisions and poor choices made by successive Ontario governments.

This is why municipalities are calling on the Government of Ontario to step up and show leadership and accountability in addressing the serious problem it has created.

The homelessness crisis is a made-in-Ontario crisis that calls out for intelligent and co-ordinated action on the part of the province.

No matter where you live in Ontario — in cities or towns, large or small, or in rural and northern communities, you have witnessed this explosion in homelessness.

The COVID-19 pandemic sped up a crisis that had been brewing for years. Disruptions in employment and income, housing instability and an increase in mental-health problems were a tipping point. And it looks like these factors are here to stay.

What are the real root causes of the problem?

If you follow the money, the cause and effect are apparent. Ontario has the lowest per capita spending in the country. Ontario spends about $2,000 less per person than the average of the other 12 provinces and territories.

Ontario would need to increase its budget by $28 billion a year to spend what other provinces are spending. This extreme underspending will be a disaster for our communities.

Ontario municipalities are unique in Canada in that they pay all or part of the costs of a range of health and social services such as public health and social housing.

Those arrangements save the province more than $3 billion a year — that’s how much property taxpayers, including low-income property taxpayers, subsidize the province every year. It is unaffordable, unsustainable, and unfair: unfair because that $3 billion municipal subsidy to the province underwrites low provincial income taxes and provincial budget surpluses. And it leaves municipalities with less to invest in the programs, services and infrastructure that people and businesses rely on most.

That is a small part of Ontario’s legacy of underinvestment in services for people. Consider backlogs in health care, inadequate community mental health services, outdated approaches to addiction treatment, inadequate supportive housing, declining income supports, and a failure to engage in meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

It is a provincial legacy whose inevitable outcome is an explosion in homelessness, food bank reliance, and untreated health and mental health conditions. It’s bad social policy and bad economic policy with a high price paid for emergency room visits, police services, and costly shelter services. Not to mention the costs in lost economic participation and productivity.

Ontario is one of the most prosperous jurisdictions in the world. So why do we have so many people and families living in parks, in ravines and in the woods? Why are so many people with serious health and mental health conditions fending for themselves on our streets?

The answer is that Ontario has chosen for decades to underinvest in the services so many people need to maintain healthy, stable, and productive lives in our communities. It has ignored changes in the economy that have left so many behind. It has ignored the barriers that stand in the way of full economic participation for so many.

This government did not create the problem, but it is governing now, and it is fully accountable for doing something about it. The good news is that municipalities and so many others in the social, health and economic sectors are eager to help.

It is time for the Ford Government to tackle Ontario’s homelessness crisis.

Ontario has the resources and the capability to take on this problem. If it chooses to lead, this government could build a legacy we can all support.


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