‘No funds available for safe house’

Federal government is still committed to addressing homelessness across Canada, says MP Randy Kamp

Editor, The News:

Re: Closing safe house not option (Letters, Jan. 7).

While I appreciate Todd  Oliver’s perspective on the future of the Iron Horse Youth Safe House, based on his considerable experience as a correctional officer, I think some clarification is required.

First, the provincial government has primary responsibility for the safety of children and youth, as well as for the network of shelters in B.C.

I’ll leave it to my provincial colleagues to explain the Ministry of Children and Families’ preference to use foster homes rather than safe houses for younger teens.

Second, our federal government is still committed to addressing homelessness across Canada. We launched the Homelessness Partnering Strategy in 2007 and in the first five years made some significant progress sheltering, housing, and training needy Canadians.

In fact, since 2007, the Alouette Home Start Society has received about $3.5 million under the HPS – most of it for the Iron Horse Youth Safe House.

Building on this success, budget 2013 announced a second five-year phase of the HPS: $119 million per year from April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2019.

While the previous strategy focused more on short-term responses, it was our government’s view that there was room for improvement when it came to helping chronically homeless individuals.

That’s why we’re adopting a Housing First approach: moving homeless people from the streets and short-term shelters into stable housing, where the focus then shifts to connecting them with supports that meet their individual needs, such as addictions or mental health issues.

Based on the evidence we’ve seen, we’re convinced that Housing First is the most effective way to address chronic and episodic homelessness. It’s important to note, however, that communities still retain the flexibility to invest up to 35 per cent of the available funds in non-Housing First projects, such as shelters and transition houses.

Third, HPS is a community-based program. Sixty-one designated communities (and some northern and Aboriginal communities) that have a significant problem with homelessness receive funding to develop local solutions. For example, in the Lower Mainland, Metro Vancouver will receive about $41 million in funding under the HPS from 2014 to 2019.

As the community entity, Metro Vancouver manages a community planning process involving a community advisory board composed of officials from all levels of government, community stakeholders, and the private and voluntary sectors.

After a regional plan is developed, Metro Vancouver receives HPS funds and all funding decisions from that point on are not made by federal politicians.

Fourth, all proponents and stakeholders, including AHSS, were advised almost two years ago that a change in focus was coming. In fact, it’s my understanding that proponents were advised as early as 2011 that they needed to develop a sustainability plan.

Although the Housing First approach was scheduled to be phased in beginning in April 2014, that was delayed while Metro Vancouver developed a plan and ran a call for proposals for both Housing First and non-Housing First projects to start in 2015.

During the transition period from April 1 to Dec. 31, IHYSH received $276,000 to allow it to continue to operate.

The call for proposals closed on Sept. 5, but it has been reported elsewhere that AHSS did not apply for funding for their Iron Horse project (although they did submit an unsuccessful application for a different youth-related project).

I understand their reasons for not doing so, but the only way to receive HPS funding is to apply.

Although it is true that there was considerable competition for the limited funds available for non-Housing First projects, I think it can be argued that a compelling case could have been made for a proposal incorporating a modified delivery model and other funding partners, such as the province and the city.

Finally, while there currently are no federal funds available to the Iron Horse for the reasons outlined above, I’m hopeful that other sources can be found to allow it to provide essential services until a new application can be submitted at the next call for proposals in 2016.

Randy Kamp, MP

Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission