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Winnipeg agencies optimistic about Ottawa's $40B housing strategy
National housing strategy will mean 'profound' change for communities, says Liberal MP Adam Vaughan
Oct. 26, 2017
Laura Glowacki

Groups who serve homeless Winnipeggers are hopeful a soon-to-be-released national housing strategy will deliver on its promise to fundamentally change the lives of Canada's most vulnerable people.

Louis Sorin, president and CEO of End Homelessness Winnipeg, said Thursday the $40 billion strategy could make a real difference homeless people will feel and see in their own lives.

Part of the federal plan's strength, he said, is it goes beyond the idea of simply building houses and looks to support the individual.

"It's not just about bricks and mortar, windows and doors it's about what does it mean to restore 'home' for people."

Speaking at the National Conference on Ending Homelessness Wednesday, Adam Vaughan, parliamentary secretary to the social development minister, said Ottawa's plan will have a "profound" impact.

The 10-year strategy will be presented to cabinet in the coming weeks and unveiled to the public (most likely) next month to coincide with National Housing Day on Nov. 22.

Vaughan said the housing strategy will take into account the concept of transition — that means empowering people to make decisions about when and how their lives should change during the process.

"The programs and policies we're going to be unveiling around the national housing strategy and more importantly around the housing homeless policy is about making sure people get that assistance to achieve that safe journey," said Vaughan.

Sorin says a focus on transitions is important and makes the housing stragegy different from other federal efforts. Transitions are often turbulent times in a person's life and can include, for example, a person leaving prison, a woman leaving an abusive relationship or a youth graduating out of care.

He said at times like these it's important government supports take a housing first approach. That means putting a roof over someone's head regardless of where they are in life or whether they suffer from addiction or mental health disorders.

"Managing transitions is key because those are emergency situations and if we don't house people properly and offer supports then they won't succeed," Sorin said.

'Give us permission to fail'

Much of the $40 billion in federal funding will flow through territorial and provincial governments before reaching street level. Effects of the funding will be "maximized," Vaughan said, if those same governments match federal funds.

Much of the strategy's sucess will be alligning priorities between levels of government and between organizations on the front lines, fighting poverty. Those partnerships are still very much a work in progress, said Sorin.

"Those are the relationships that they need to foster," he said while adding he believes all levels of government share a desire to end homelessness.

Vaughan himself said the path ahead may not always be an easy one.

"You're going to have to give us permission to fail, and you're going to have to give us the wise council to fix the problems as they emerge," the MP said to local government and Indigenous leaders as well as front-line support workers.

"We're counting on you."

Kirsten Bernas, chair of the provincial working group for the Right to Housing Coalition, has reservations about how far Manitoba or Winnipeg will go to partner with Ottawa or match the new federal dollars.

"This work really requires significant government investment. That's why right now I'm less optimistic locally because we haven't heard anything yet from our local government," she said.

Mayor Brian Bowman and Families Minister Scott Fiedling did not mention specific initiatives that talk about building affordable housing in their speeches Wednesday, an essential step to preventing and reducing homelessness, she said.

"We know that our province is looking at actually selling off some of the housing that's available for low income peoples."

Fielding did say Wednesday his government believes homelessness is a "big issue that needs to be addressed."

"The Manitoba government continues to look at creative ways to really addressing the challenges in partnership with communities, with Indigenous organizations and local service providers," said Fielding.

On any given night there are approximately 35,000 homeless people across Canada, a 2016 study found.

A study in 2015 counted 1,400 homeless people in Winnipeg but experts said that may only represents about a quarter of the total number.