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Resolving Homelessness:
Just do it

TORONTO – We have just come through a mayoralty election where the very issue was defined as a “crisis”. It is the word of the month in Canadian politics – no matter the level. Every crisis has to end. First is the housing issue, particularly as it relates to homelessness.

In the words of one prominent municipal politician who expressed himself on background, “it is incomprehensible that we would have refugees, failed by all levels of government, who find themselves sleeping on the streets of Toronto”.

Any reasonable person might agree. Toronto is on a per capita basis among the richest cities in the world. The city proper – home to three million residents – has 7.5% of the county’s population: the GTA accounts for 20% of GDP and 45% of Ontario’s population. None of these authorities classify as lost outposts of civilization.

And yet, according to the newly elected Mayor, on any given night, two hundred (200) homeless persons are without shelter.

On the face of it, money does not seem to be the issue. The federal Budget plan for 2022-2023 has a plethora of housing initiatives and dollar allocations that would send most people’s heads spinning with wonderment. What follows are just some with spending typically spread over five years.

There are (1) New Housing Accelerator funds: $4 Billion over 5years and $1.5Billion over 2 years for New Affordable Housing, (2) Affordable Housing Innovation Fund $200 Million, (3) Multigenerational Home Renovation Tax Credit, of up to $7,500 per unit, (4) Housing for Indigenous Communities to co-develop and launch Urban […] Housing Strategy as part of a $6.3 Billion over seven years to expand Indigenous Housing in Canada, (5) Reaching Home: Canada’s Homeless Strategy, $3 Billion over 4 years.

Granted, with only 7.5% of the country’s population, it may be challenging for local politicians to define the fair share for Toronto and the convince others of their position. It is worth remembering that the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario tops all of the federal contribution with an additional 33% as part of their joint funding agreement.

The funding is only a part of the “asset base” to solve the homeless crisis. It may be that, as per the municipal politician above, “it is not a revenue issue, but a spending issue simply because spending is the easier thing to do than to reassess and redeploy that spending”.

It is an interesting concept (sarcasm intended) for Municipal politicians who think of themselves as social justice warriors when they have the tools at hand to resolve material immediate problems. It struck us, in conversation, that the city would appear to prefer to pay market rates in hotels to house the homeless instead.

We reached out to the Administration and Trustees of the two Toronto school Boards. They both have “excess capacity” – schools that are basically empty, unused and still costing maintenance dollars. These schools have functional washrooms, kitchen facilities and open spaces for temporary bunk beds and cots to accommodate the homeless [refugees and non].

At time of going to print, one trustee ventured a response. Coincidently, the Hon. S. Fraser, Canadian Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship announced an additional $97 million in new funding for the City of Toronto.

Put on the spot, TCDSB Trustee Michael Del Grande agreed: “As a trustee, I would support a temporary fix to house refugees and homeless families in our schools and have other levels of government redirect funding to maintain the upkeep of those empty schools. It becomes a short-term win-win”.

For the Corriere Canadese, his reflection could be viewed as a rebuke of all levels of government for not exercising responsible leadership. Trustee Del Grande would only admit that his support should be construed as a “short term, stop gap measure”.

Mr. Del Grande was a former budget chief for the city of Toronto.

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