NewmarketToday launches Road Home, a regular monthly column by Michael Braithwaite, CEO of Blue Door, York Region’s largest emergency housing provider. With more than 30 years of experience creating innovative solutions to better support vulnerable people, he is a renowned leader and expert in the housing and homelessness sector, and is a tireless advocate for people experiencing homelessness.
In the past few months, you’ve likely heard and read about the More Homes Built Faster Act, the Ontario government’s Bill 23 that proposes to build 150,000 homes each year for the next 10 years to make up for the shortage of housing.
What you may not realize is the act doesn’t mention anything about increasing truly affordable housing.
Making it worse, Bill 23 introduced changes to municipalities’ development fees, which limits the amount of social housing that can be built.
Driven by the need for housing supply, Bill 23 will provide housing, but only for those who can afford it.
Thus, by building housing without consideration for affordable housing, the housing crisis will only get worse. Youth, seniors and whole families will be pushed into poverty and homelessness.
In the last few years, costs for housing and food have skyrocketed, with the average one-bedroom apartment costing more than $2,000 a month.
Just to get by people are relying on food banks. In the 2022 Who’s Hungry Report from the Daily Bread Food Bank, after paying for rent and utilities, food bank users have only $8 a day left over.
Imagine trying to survive and support your family with only $8 a day.
Unable to keep up, according to York Region’s last Point-in-Time count in 2021, 329 people were experiencing homelessness on any given night. A number that has increased due to inflation and the cost-of-living crisis.
According to the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH), 85 per cent of people experiencing homelessness simply cannot afford proper housing.
Affordable housing is urgently needed.
But building the amount of affordable housing needed to slow or stop the housing crisis will take years, which is something our most vulnerable don’t have.
To prevent unnecessary suffering today and build a better future, vulnerable people need to be provided with enough financial assistance to afford housing, food, and still be able to survive.
Right now, 15 per cent of Ontario residents accessing Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Payments receive just more than $700 or $1,200 a month.
But three years ago, during the beginning of the pandemic, people unable to work were given $2,000 a month in income support.
Why do we keep turning a blind eye to the fact that 15 per cent of our province’s population is receiving nowhere close to that amount?
Where is the humanity in that?
Together, we need to pressure our provincial government to reform its policies and increase the social assistance amounts individuals and families receive.
On the federal level, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness is proposing a Homelessness Prevention and Housing Benefit that would provide immediate rental relief to up to 385,000 households at imminent risk of homelessness, helping more than 50,000 people escape homelessness. The benefit would reduce pressure on Canada’s overwhelmed homelessness systems while ultimately saving the government (and taxpayers) money by reducing demand on public systems like health care.
Tim Richter, president and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, explains, “Canadians are seeing increasing homelessness in their towns and cities across the country. This is a preventable disaster. A rapidly deployed, targeted housing benefit like the one we are proposing, can stop or at least slow this wave of new homelessness.”
How can you be part of the solution?
The homelessness and housing crisis is a result of bad policy choices.
Our governments need to make better choices.
Visit caeh.ca and write to your local MP, MPP and local newspaper. Let them know you support income assistance reform, the need for deeply affordable housing, and CAEH’s Homelessness Prevention and Housing Benefit.
Together, we can and will prevent and end homelessness.
Michael Braithwaite is the CEO of Blue Door, host of the housing and homelessness podcast “On The Way Home”, board chair of the youth homelessness-focused organization A Way Home Canada, and a tireless advocate for people experiencing homelessness.