Evidence of meeting #20 for Finance in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was communities.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Cécile Arbaud  Executive Director, Dans la rue
Véronique Laflamme  Spokesperson, Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain
Shayne Williams  Chief Executive Officer, Lookout Housing and Health Society
Paul Taylor  President and Chief Executive Officer, Head Office, Mortgage Professionals Canada
Elaine Taylor  Chair of the Board of Directors, Head Office, Mortgage Professionals Canada
Jim Bell  Chief Executive Officer, Siloam Mission
Dan Clement  President and Chief Executive Officer, United Way Centraide Canada
Maureen Fair  Executive Director, West Neighbourhood House
Mary Robinson  President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture
Barry Friesen  General Manager, Cleanfarms
Derek Nighbor  President and Chief Executive Officer, Forest Products Association of Canada
Lynn Napier  Mayor of Fort Smith, Northwest Territories Association of Communities
Martin Caron  First Vice-President, Union des producteurs agricoles
Jean-Maurice Matte  Mayor, Ville de Senneterre
Scott Ross  Assistant Executive Director, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

2:10 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

I will call the meeting to order. I thank everyone for coming on this new system we're working on for the House of Commons at the moment.

Welcome to meeting number 20 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. Pursuant to the order of reference of Tuesday, March 24, the committee is meeting to examine the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today's meeting, as you're well aware, is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Common's website. The website will always show the person speaking rather than the entirety of the committee.

In order to facilitate the work of our interpreters, I'd like to outline a few rules for us to follow. Interpretation in this video conference will work very much as it does in a regular committee meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of either “Floor”, “English” or “French”.

Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you're ready to speak, you can either click on the microphone icon to activate your mike or you can hold down the space bar while you're speaking. When you release the space bar, the mike will shut off, something like a walkie-talkie.

Should members need to request the floor outside of their designated time for questions, they should activate their mike and state they have a point of order and I will pick up on that.

If members wish to intervene on a point of order that has been raised by another member, they should use the “raise hand” function. This will signal your interest to speak. In order to do so, you can click on “participants” at the bottom of the screen. When the list pops up, you'll see, next to your name, that you've clicked on “raise hand”.

Beyond that, speak slowly and clearly. It's a lot better for interpretation. Your mike should be on mute when you're not speaking.

With that, I will welcome all the witnesses. Thank you for coming to this panel. Your input is very important to us.

We'll start with Cécile Arbaud from Dans la rue.

2:10 p.m.

Cécile Arbaud Executive Director, Dans la rue

Hello. My name is Cécile Arbaud.

I am the executive director of Dans la rue in Montreal. Founded 31 years ago, Dans la rue helps more than 1,000 homeless young people a year. I'm really interested in youth homelessness. Dans la rue actively supports the Jeunes+ coalition, which was created in 2019, to prevent youth homelessness in Quebec. I sit on its steering committee, and I also sit on the boards of directors of two Canadian organizations that work at the national level to fight youth homelessness: the Coalition Vers un chez-soi, also known as A Way Home Canada, and the Changer de direction network of centres of excellence, better known as the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab.

Through youth outreach, research, knowledge mobilization and collective impacts, all these actors and dozens of others across Canada are seeking to prevent and reduce the social aberration of still having dozens of young people a year who are homeless, who are in great psychological distress and who have many barriers to overcome, preventing them from pursuing their development, their studies, their attachment to employment and their ability to lead independent and rewarding lives.

My area of experience is more with homeless youth. That being said, I am also a member of the board of directors of the Réseau d'aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal, RAPSIM, which brings together 100 Montreal homelessness organizations, so I am quite familiar with the homelessness scene in Montreal. I won't be speaking on behalf of all these organizations today, but I will try to speak on behalf of people who are homeless and young people who are homeless.

The COVID‑19 crisis highlights the right of all to have a roof over their heads. More than that, it highlights the extent of what will be needed to end homelessness, because it exacerbates the difficulties experienced by young people. I will give a few examples of what is happening right now, particularly among young people. This doesn't apply only to young people, but young people have specific characteristics. Many young people who had jobs have lost them. Many young people have, it has to be said, lost somewhat formal income, such as street begging. I won't go into details, but the inability to beg on the street is a loss of income for some young people. Few young people have previous declared income that would allow them to access the Canada emergency benefit. Access to housing assistance programs is closed. Access to private housing is virtually impossible. The issue of release from prison is unresolved. Some of the young people who come to our emergency shelter have been out of prison for a short period of time.

The majority of programs aimed at getting out of homelessness and empowering youth are closed or discontinued. I'm talking about school and employability programs. Administrative and legal processes are lagging behind. People who are homeless, particularly youth, are getting tickets for gathering together or failing to respect social distancing on the street. This is very counterproductive, and it will add a burden to their shoulders when they have to contest these tickets. Moreover, they won't be able to pay them because, in Montreal in this case, they are getting $1,546, while the Canada emergency response benefit is giving $2,000. It doesn't make any sense. Mental health follow‑ups are much more complicated. In addition, young people feel excluded. They have no place to stay, and they are kicked out of different places. Isolation is very difficult to live with, and the level of anxiety is very high.

Access to and use of drugs is less safe. Drugs are of poorer quality, posing a serious risk in the pre‑existing opioid crisis. In addition, access to therapies is currently very limited. No new patients are being taken. Young people who have children of their own find themselves confined to the home, often in a difficult marital situation, or they have not developed all the necessary parenting skills. We are often a little worried about them. Telephone interventions provide only limited support. Finally, one of the major sources of youth homelessness is leaving child and youth protection centres or youth centres, as we say in Quebec. For the moment, all exits are obviously suspended, which could stop the tap of homelessness, although we still see some young people running away from youth centres. In the meantime, those who are stuck and who do not leave can't prepare their exit. As a result, we are in danger of seeing the rate of homelessness increase.

These examples demonstrate the breadth and complexity of the measures needed to help youth move out of homelessness. The young people we continue to see on the streets—because we have kept emergency services—are the most disadvantaged. They were already living in an emergency situation, and now they are even more so. Emergency solutions are no longer enough for responding to even more difficult situations and to an almost certain increase in precariousness and homelessness. We will have to act very quickly, with a long‑term vision, to help all the people concerned, meaning all the people who are homeless, who are going to be homeless or who are in a very precarious situation.

In my opinion, several things need to be done. First of all, we must facilitate access to housing and staying in housing. That means all sorts of things, but, in short, we must prevent people from being evicted because they can't write a cheque. It's often said that people are one paycheque away from homelessness, and we really have to be careful about that. We must also make it easier to support people when they leave institutions. I am thinking of prisons, in particular. We should also think about providing people with a decent income, even a guaranteed minimum income. Furthermore, we must increase psychological and psychiatric assistance and follow‑up services at home, as well as adapt psychosocial services to the context of the pandemic to ensure their continuity.

For young people in particular, there is a need to increase and strengthen prevention, which must also take place earlier, in families, schools and when leaving a youth protection centre. It is also necessary to increase and strengthen support for self‑reliance so that young people can develop and maintain good mental and physical health, and have access to education and employment programs to lead more independent and rewarding lives.

Thank you.

2:15 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Cécile.

We'll turn now to the Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain. We have Véronique Laflamme.

2:15 p.m.

Véronique Laflamme Spokesperson, Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain

Hi, everyone.

My name is Véronique Laflamme. Today, I am representing the Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain, FRAPRU, which is a Quebec‑wide group of housing committees, tenants' associations and citizens' committees from various regions of Quebec.

We have 140 groups in Quebec, 30 of which are active groups that work daily with tenants, mainly low‑ and modest‑income tenants, and with people who want to start social housing projects. Our groups support these projects, and provide support and services to tenants, particularly vulnerable tenants. In the context of the current pandemic, our groups receive many calls from tenants who are worried about losing their homes or who have reached the threshold of being able to pay.

FRAPRU is a group that promotes the right to housing, a right to which Canada committed itself as a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but also by recently adopting, last June, Bill C-97, which included the recognition of the right to housing.

I would point out that the right to housing includes protection against eviction and a criterion relating to the ability to pay, which every home must meet, and that it must be implemented progressively, not regressively, using the maximum available resources.

The current pandemic highlights the interrelation between the right to adequate income, the right to health, the right to food and the right to housing. The particular consequences of the lack of decent housing for the homeless in particular have just been clearly highlighted by the person who spoke before me, but the consequences for seniors are also revealed by the current situation. It is important to remember that there are many seniors who are not in public institutions, but rather in rooming houses or in poor housing situations.

FRAPRU's main concern in the current pandemic is therefore to avoid mass evictions after the end of the health emergency. In most provinces and in Quebec, there is a moratorium on tenant evictions during the health emergency. Unfortunately, in most cases, this will disappear at the end of the pandemic. Since tenants' ability to pay is affected, we fear a wave of mass evictions, particularly because of the lack of employment insurance for many low‑income workers, despite the income assistance provided by the Canada emergency response benefit.

We are concerned that many people will not be able to pay their rent and that they will be even more precarious after the pandemic, not to mention those who will not be able to return to work or low‑income households that do not qualify for these programs. I am thinking in particular of low‑income retirees and people on social assistance who have to pay more for food because of the closure of resources that often allow them to have access to some free food. These people will become more vulnerable and will have a harder time paying their rent because of the pandemic and the end of various services.

So our main concern is to avoid evictions during the pandemic, but we're also thinking about what will happen afterwards. We are well aware that this is a provincial jurisdiction, but it remains a concern that the federal government must have, given its commitments to housing rights.

Our other concern has to do with the ability to pay. The Canadian government has been able to take action on the income side, particularly through the benefit programs that have been announced but, as I was saying, we don't think that will be enough, for a number of reasons. It isn't yet the case in all Quebec cities, but in several Canadian cities, the $2,000 is close to the amount charged for rent—it's important to remember that. In Toronto and Vancouver, but also in Montreal, many tenants are already paying $1,500 or more in rent. Therefore, additional resources are needed. Later on, I will suggest some measures that could be implemented by the federal government.

At the same time, I would point out that tenants are all the more vulnerable to eviction because hundreds of thousands of them were already in core housing need at the time of the last census. In fact, 1.7 million tenant households in Canada were paying more than the standard of 30% of their income for housing, and 800,000 tenant households in Canada, including 195,000 in Quebec, were spending more than half of their income on housing.

This prevents them from meeting their other basic needs.

Food banks were already highlighting the impact of the lack of affordable housing on the increased demand for food assistance. These situations are exacerbated by the current pandemic. There was a pre‑existing housing crisis in Quebec and in several Canadian cities because of the scarcity of affordable rental housing, but especially because of the high cost of housing, which was already leading to the exclusion of many tenants from their neighbourhoods. Finally, there was also a context of real estate speculation, which is still present and will unfortunately not disappear with the pandemic.

The major problem in Canada is the lack of alternatives for all these tenants. At FRAPRU, we have often highlighted the fact that this crisis has been caused by the lack of social housing and the federal government's withdrawal from housing outside the private market, whether it be low‑rent housing, co‑ops or non‑profit organizations. According to the OECD, Canada ranks 16th in terms of its percentage of social housing. Social housing accounts for 4% of Canada's housing stock.

As Ms. Arbaud said, in this case social housing is inaccessible to many, making many tenants even more vulnerable to eviction. They have nowhere else to go, which leads to more homelessness.

In the current context, bearing in mind that Quebec's areas of jurisdiction must be respected, the demands we are making of the federal government are not the same as those we are making of the Quebec government. First of all, we are talking about a contingency fund. Yesterday, the government announced assistance measures of this type, including loans for commercial rents. We believe that this requires a contingency fund and not just interest‑free loans, because we must avoid increasing debt. It takes special grants and then perhaps interest‑free loans for tenants.

In Canada, particularly in Ontario, there is already such a fund to help people who, for one reason or another, can't pay their rent. It could be set up by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which already manages mortgage loans.

Then there is the funding of emergency rent supplement programs. Rent supplement programs have been federally subsidized in the past. They can be managed by the provinces, which have infrastructure. These programs need to be funded quickly to help people stay in their homes with financial assistance.

At the same time, funds must be made available now to rehabilitate the social housing that Ottawa has funded in the past. This would make it possible to quickly rehouse people who can no longer afford to pay their current rent. Because of underfunding by the federal government, 300 social housing units are shuttered in Montreal alone. Renovating these units would not take as long as building new ones.

2:20 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Ms. Laflamme, I don't want to interrupt, but we are substantially over time, so sum up, if you could, as quickly as possible.

2:20 p.m.

Spokesperson, Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain

Véronique Laflamme


With regard to homelessness, FRAPRU has taken the requests of the Réseau solidarité itinérance du Québec. The goal is to prepare for a second wave of the pandemic by releasing additional funds, if necessary, and by making the sums from the federal‑provincial agreement under A Way Home available quickly.

I will conclude by saying that we already want to prepare for the post‑pandemic period. We must invest in social housing quickly, which the federal government was not doing. This is an opportunity to invest massively in this public infrastructure that belongs to the communities, particularly by making the money from the national strategy in Quebec available quickly to help us deal with this housing crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Thank you.

2:25 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you, Ms. Laflamme.

I have next the Lookout Society and Shayne Williams.

2:25 p.m.

Shayne Williams Chief Executive Officer, Lookout Housing and Health Society

Thank you very much.

Lookout Housing and Health Society has been working to end homelessness and increase the health of vulnerable people in British Columbia since 1971.

We provide housing and a range of support services to adults with little income and who have few, if any, housing and support options. Because the people we serve have challenges meeting their basic needs and goals, we place minimal barriers between them and our services.

We started in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and we are now one of the largest shelter and housing providers in the province, providing services in 15 communities across Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island, as well as offering provincial services through our Mood Disorders Association of British Columbia arm.

We currently have about 900 staff. They serve more than 2,800 people daily in our shelters, housing, outreach health and support services. We support people who cope with multiple barriers, including mental health problems, substance use, poverty, chronic illness and trauma.

For COVID-19, Lookout has partnered with BC Housing, Vancouver Coastal Health and the City of Vancouver to open the emergency response centre located in the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre. It has appropriately spaced cots and bathrooms available for people who need to self-isolate and has social distancing parameters.

In the last couple of weeks in March, we started a phased move-in with a maximum of 79 beds. As of this morning, there are 51 people staying at the Roundhouse Centre.

We're also currently working with two other communities to provide a second and third emergency response centre, partnering with BC Housing, two local municipal governments—New Westminster and Abbotsford—the Fraser Health Authority and a local church. They are scheduled to open in the next two to three weeks. These sites will also be used as shelter expansion and overflow for medical services in emergency rooms. They will allow for social distancing in an effort to try to keep people well and bolster their immune systems before COVID hits the vulnerable population that we serve.

Unfortunately, these centres are necessary due to our housing crisis and the lack of social housing, and they are also temporary. It's due to the pandemic nature that they have been opened.

Lookout serves vulnerable populations, and our goal is to prevent illness. It's always a high priority for us. We follow best practices established by local heath authorities for potential outbreaks of any kind at any time. Our policies include universal precautions and a pandemic plan, and it covers all forms of contagion. We work with our suppliers to have up-to-date cleaning supplies and procedures and we use innovative products to help reduce bacteria at our sites.

Over the last few months, our focus has really been on increasing the immune systems of vulnerable people and creating that trust and connection to local health care when and if people fall ill and become COVID-positive.

For this work, we're following the guidance of the WHO, the CDC and the local health authorities in increasing our cleaning protocols and using PPE effectively but also sparingly, since we're having a very difficult time in accessing a regular supply. Obviously, we are promoting handwashing and educating about its importance, and we are enforcing social distancing and relieving our sites of congestion as much as possible.

We thank Reaching Home and the federal government for the COVID response in dollars. We've been a recipient of a lot of that support financially, and we thank the Province of British Columbia for the emergency funding that has helped us purchase some of the PPE and create some of these new connections for folks.

Right now, our staff team is our number one resource, so finding ways to protect them and keep them safe and to provide relief and celebrate their successes and essential service in our province is really important work that we need to focus in on, I think nationally.

Thank goodness for the community groups and organizations that have been donating homemade masks, cleaning supplies, food and other items, because procurement of these types of things is getting really difficult.

Overall, I think the national housing and poverty strategies, as well as this response, have been very good at a federal level, but through this pandemic and beyond, we need better access to health care that focuses on trauma recovery and concern for the wellness of those who are socially isolating, and more so for the folks that Lookout serves on a day-to-day basis in dealing with previous trauma amidst the pandemic, combined with the opioid crisis, the local housing crisis and really a national housing crisis.

Dental care has also been an area of concern, where people fall into addictions That has a profound impact on their health, and so we need a federal dental program, and easier access and implementation of the CMHC funds for housing. It has been incredibly difficult to build housing even with the national housing strategy. The scope is very limited, and it's tough to access. A lot of further work on drug policy is needed in this country to keep people safe who are mired in addiction.

There was some work on pandemic prescribing, and I applaud the federal government for taking those steps. The issue needs more attention. We need to be focusing to ensure that the most vulnerable people have a level of wellness that allows them the best opportunity to overcome the challenges they face, and we see a myriad of challenges. As long as trauma and physical health are impacting folks, they're not going forward in their journey to wellness.

Thanks for the time today.

2:30 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Shayne. I want to get back to you on the PPE later.

With Mortgage Professionals Canada, we have Paul Taylor, president and CEO, and Elaine Taylor, chair.

Go ahead, Paul.

2:30 p.m.

Paul Taylor President and Chief Executive Officer, Head Office, Mortgage Professionals Canada

Thank you very much indeed, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the members of the committee. On behalf of the over 12,000 members of Mortgage Professionals Canada, thank you for providing us with the opportunity to take part in the discussions today.

I am Paul Taylor, president and CEO of Mortgage Professionals Canada, and as Mr. Easter has just stated, with me is Elaine Taylor—no relation—vice-president of sales at MCAP Financial Corporation, but also currently serving as chair of Mortgage Professionals Canada's board.

For an initial context for our remarks today, I'd like to remind the committee of MPC's membership composition. We are a professional association promoting mortgage broker-originated mortgages. By head count, mortgage brokers and agents across Canada make up the largest component of our membership. However, almost all Canadian banks and mortgage lenders that originate mortgages through independent agents and brokers also belong to our association. Additionally, all three mortgage insurers in Canada are also members. Because of the diverse nature of our members' businesses and their respective role in fulfilling broker-originated mortgages, MPC has a thorough understanding of the marketplace impact of any changes to mortgage finance and funding costs, securitization and liquidity, underwriting criteria and lending guidelines, and changing consumer behaviours.

With the context and the stated framework of the discussion today being the impact of COVID-19 on housing and homelessness, we will probably comment primarily on measures implemented to ensure continued liquidity in the marketplace and on the individual income continuation programs, and business continuity and wage subsidy programs created over the course of the last four to six weeks, both of which we consider critical to ensuring the continued security of housing for millions of Canadians.

Real estate purchase and sale transactions have diminished dramatically in some regions of the country. Home purchases and sale transactions are usually about a one-to-eight week process and at the beginning of the calls for social distancing and isolation as a best practice, our industry wrestled with changes in process to complete the transactions that were under way.

At the time, home inspectors couldn't gain access to properties to estimate values and many legal professions were unable to permit electronic signing for title registry changes, both traditionally necessary functions for mortgage funding to be completed.

Fortunately, most of those challenges were dealt with in a collaborative fashion, with lenders, mortgage insurers, realtors and mortgage brokers all working towards the best outcome compromises to ensure no one was stuck between the sale of their previous home and obtaining legal possession of their next, but we are now experiencing a significant reduction of new business activity, like many industry segments in Canada. This is placing significant financial strain on businesses and on individual Canadians' ability to meet their financial obligations. Once the transactions in the current business pipeline are finalized, we anticipate many of our members will have little opportunity to generate income, both through the remainder of the lockdown and for a period of time following the acceptable resumption of business.

I'd now like to pass the mike to Elaine.

2:35 p.m.

Elaine Taylor Chair of the Board of Directors, Head Office, Mortgage Professionals Canada

Thank you.

The landscape presents many challenges for our lender and insurer members. Their products depend upon the ability of Canadians to manage their debt obligations smoothly. With a government order for businesses to close, many borrowers' ability to meet these obligations had been seriously impacted, due to their loss of income. This generally means that those most affected require more access to credit at a time when investment capital becomes scarce. With the risk of defaults rising, investing in mortgages or any consumer debt product becomes less appealing without additional risk premiums in the form of higher interest rates.

With these challenges in mind, the federal government and related agencies implemented a number of changes to assist the financial landscape at both the macro and micro levels. The reintroduction of the insured mortgage purchase program, with its newly increased limit of $150 billion, provided much needed access to capital for banks and other lenders. Additionally, the reduction of the domestic stability buffer also added $300 billion in liquidity to banks to be able to support struggling businesses through additional extensions of credit. The reductions to the Bank of Canada benchmark rate also occurred during this time. We're supportive of all these changes and the speed with which these mechanisms were brought to bear.

As an industry, we are reassured by the timely and coordinated macroeconomic support brought forward. Ensuring liquidity and capital adequacy is critical in these uncertain times. It provides confidence to lenders that their continuing cost of capital will be reasonable and accessible, allowing them to continue to support Canadian businesses' and consumers' needs for affordable credit access.

One suggestion we make for OSFI to consider, following the same thought process as the already-implemented reduction in the domestic stability buffer, is to reduce the capital requirements for mortgage insurers. This would allow them to reduce their required premiums, making access to the insured mortgage purchase program and other programs easier for lenders and borrowers.

With funding for credit assured, the next consideration is Canadians' ability to manage their credit obligations. For the individual Canadians most affected by job or significant income loss, many of our members included, we also wish to compliment the government for the speed with which the emergency support programs have been introduced. The Canadian emergency response benefit, in particular, should be acknowledged as a tremendous showing of financial support in record time, providing a much-needed cash lifeline for many families.

We are also complimentary of other programs that we can discuss in more detail during the question and answer period.

For the most part, while no program can be tailored to meet the needs of all circumstances, the supports offered as emergency assistance are well considered, given our circumstances and the requirement for swift support. That said, we anticipate many individuals will suffer significant long-term economic loss due to the outbreak and business interruptions caused by COVID-19. We anticipate some of the least fortunate, owners and renters alike, will possibly find themselves unable to afford to stay in their homes. We would recommend examining the possibility of introducing additional insured mortgage products into the marketplace to assist. We also suggest that some federal funding be set aside to provide the additional support that municipalities, NGOs and charitable organizations will need to assist these individuals in the coming months and years.

We thank the committee for the opportunity to share our professional opinions today, and we welcome your questions.

2:40 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Paul and Elaine.

We'll turn now to the Siloam Mission and Jim Bell, CEO.

2:40 p.m.

Jim Bell Chief Executive Officer, Siloam Mission

Thank you to the committee this afternoon for this opportunity.

I'd like to start by saying that I hope you're all well and healthy during these very trying times. It's a pleasure to meet some of you, even through these methods this afternoon.

I will also speak today about the challenges COVID-19 poses to our sector and those experiencing homelessness. I'm sure you will hear some common threads with what you've already heard from the previous witnesses.

First I'll give you just a brief explanation about Siloam Mission. We're the largest service provider for those experiencing homelessness in Winnipeg. Siloam has been serving the community here for over 32 years. To give you further context, we run an overnight shelter with 110 beds that are full basically every night, with some people redirected to other nearby shelters. We have a daytime drop-in. We serve approximately 500 meals, three times a day, 365 days a year. If you do the math, that's over 500,000 meals per year. We also offer health care, including 10 professional services, clothing, work experience programs, mental health counselling, and one-on-one supports to help people regain and maintain housing and get back into the job market as well.

We recently added a social enterprise laundry, giving full-time work to guests at our shelter who want to re-enter the workforce. That started in October and we're very pleased to see the impact that it's having. Not only are these people being paid, but to see the change in their self-esteem and, I would say, overall dignity is really encouraging. In our next project, we'll be adding recovery-based housing units to our facility, which we were recently awarded based on an RFP submission.

As we all know, poverty and homelessness are complex under normal circumstances. The situation we now face with COVID has created new challenges and, I think it's safe to say, added pressure to day-to-day existing challenges, from fundraising to delivery of the services that I had mentioned a moment ago. We know that food, shelter, physical health and mental health are deeply interlinked and make up the essentials for survival.

The current directives around COVID-19—and we hear this a lot and practise it a lot, and I know you do as well because we follow your lead—are to self-isolate and just stay home. Unfortunately, doing those things is not possible for those who don't have a place to call their own. That's one of the challenges. The onus is therefore put on places like Siloam Mission, and on organizations that I've listened carefully to here this afternoon as well, and others here locally, places already working at full capacity, to alter services to better protect an already vulnerable population.

In many cases, those experiencing homelessness are already among the most vulnerable to illness and health emergencies. Health care among those who live on the streets is vulnerable every day, no question about it. They are more likely to have underlying medical conditions and to have a history of poor nutrition, health care and hygiene. Add to this the inability to isolate, poor access to proper hygiene tools and the environment of a homeless shelter and you have an extremely, extremely vulnerable group.

I would say, as we look forward, that much has already been done among the providers in Manitoba and federally to protect our community. We are extremely fortunate that we have not yet seen an outbreak in our homeless community. Every day we are so grateful here at Siloam. Yes, we hear of positive cases in our city and province and across our nation, but fortunately within our shelter we're not aware of a positive case as of yet, and we're very grateful for that. We also know that each new day is a new risk, and I can't imagine the potential horrors if we were to see an outbreak. These most vulnerable members of our society must be included in public policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and just as important, included in recovery efforts when the pandemic subsides, and—I know I share this sentiment with all of you—we hope the pandemic subsides sooner than later.

I want to respect everyone's time. In my last minute or two, I will speak about the future impacts of COVID-19. The facts and figures that have already been shown paint a sombre picture of what lies ahead for Canada's business sector and economy. I pay attention to those numbers every day. As a charity, we're certainly not immune, and if anything, may be more vulnerable as we brace ourselves for a long season of reduced charitable giving. We know that as the economics of this go forward, non-profits and charitable organizations are going to be significantly impacted, and we are bracing for that. To give you some scale, at Siloam Mission we rely on about 90% private donations.

Not only do we expect those private donations to drop sharply in an economic fallout from COVID, but we also know to expect an increase in demand for services. I noted the previous speaker mentioned that people aren't going to be able to stay in their own homes because of the challenges, but where are they going to go? Some might end up in shelters such as Siloam and other places across the country. There will be people living on the brink before this crisis who will find themselves at our doors, whether it be for meals, a place to stay or to get back on their feet.

Briefly, to close, while we know the pressures on government are already immense to help people across this economic spectrum, we also see the need in our community growing and it's safe to assume that it's not going to stop. I think I can speak for communities across our wonderful country when I say that. Agencies serving the homeless population are facing a drop in donations, and at the same time, it's the greatest service delivery challenge we know we've ever faced here.

Please take note of this: We know from past studies that our services, from health care to shelter to counselling, translate into government savings, most notably in the form of reduced emergency room visits and police interaction. We have studies that if I had more time I would share with you.

We hope that, as we weather this pandemic and work together toward recovery on the other side, our governments will invest in the work being done amongst our most vulnerable citizens.

My last comment to all of you would be that I believe investment in this work will literally save lives and it will go a tremendous distance as we help people to transition back into health, into homes and into jobs.

Once again, thank you for your time. It's a real privilege to participate with all of you today.

2:45 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Mr. Bell.

We'll turn, then, to United Way Centraide Canada and Mr. Dan Clement, who is the president and CEO.

2:45 p.m.

Dan Clement President and Chief Executive Officer, United Way Centraide Canada

Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here with you.

To start, I just want to recognize and thank the federal government, all of the MPs and Canada's federal civil servants for the critically important work you are all doing to support Canadians through this pandemic. I want you to know that we very much appreciate all that you are doing.

I also want to recognize and thank the government for the new and important investments of over $200 million in the Reaching Home program, as well as support for women's shelters and sexual assault centres. That's very important.

As you know, I am representing United Way Centraide Canada. We are Canada's largest non-governmental funder of vital community services, focused on eliminating poverty and also providing the supports to vulnerable Canadians that they need to build sustainable livelihoods. Across Canada we support about 3,000 community organizations and about 5,600 different programs. We invest about $40 million annually in housing and homelessness supports, as well as domestic violence issues.

We're also very active in our communities across Canada in supporting a COVID response.

As has already been said this afternoon, we know the pandemic is affecting all Canadians, but I think we also know that it's going to have an even more profound impact on our most vulnerable Canadians, in particular, the homeless and the precariously housed.

I thought what I would do is share a little bit of the experience we're seeing on the ground, from coast to coast, from community organizations and our United Way Centraide partners that are supporting them.

To start, the good right now is the additional funding that was provided, which is extremely important. It's flexible. It's allowing our communities to adapt and respond. I want to recognize the importance of that.

Equally, perhaps, the challenge is that the COVID-19 implications are not really short term. They're not just today; I think this will be in front of us for the next six to 18 months until such time as we get a vaccine. That tells us that the additional funding, however critical, may not be enough for what's in front of us not just in the immediate term but in the months to come.

I think you've heard a little bit of this already, but I'll reiterate a few things regarding the challenges and how communities are responding in particular around homelessness.

Food is a significant issue. As the meal programs have changed, our homeless populations and our community service providers have had to find new ways to provide safe access to food.

The challenges of supporting people dealing with mental illness are significant. They are even more profound in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis we're facing.

We know and we're hearing that domestic violence calls are up. Families are under stress financially and through isolation.

We know that our shelters are full. It's been referenced, but you know our emergency shelter system was not designed for social isolation. Our existing shelters are facing a challenge. That's requiring us to find new spaces, spaces that can accommodate social distancing, and also to create spaces for those who test positive so that they can be isolated. The shelter system wasn't designed for this, but we're having to adapt all across the country.

The issue of personal hygiene is a significant one as homeless individuals don't have the same access to public facilities to take care of their personal hygiene needs. There are United Way Centraide organizations that have had to literally buy porta-potties in order to contribute and support communities in a crisis. I never thought that would be the case, but we are doing that just as part of the response. I think we need to highlight that.

There is also a new demand. People who are leaving incarceration without a plan for housing are showing up in the shelter system.

Another thing I would highlight as an important challenge is we have to protect our front-line workers in the shelters. There is a tremendous need for health and cleaning products and for personal protective equipment. All are in short supply. It's incredibly important that we work hard to support our front-line workers to make sure they have access to what they need to deliver care to the communities.

Those are all things that our amazing community organizations are working hard to address. We should be proud of how hard they are working to support the most vulnerable Canadians.

We also have to think about not just today, but about what could be coming at us. That is the potential problem of the new homeless and new homelessness. We know that social distancing and isolation are pushing the precariously housed into homelessness. We know that eviction prevention programs are really good right now—they're great—but we can foresee a wave of evictions coming due to the economic hardship that people are facing, and the inability to pay rent in the future. This is really important as we think about not just today, but what's in front of us.

What's needed? I'd like to highlight a few things.

First is the recognition that housing is a fundamental human right, and a fundamental right for Canadians. It's something that Canada recognized in legislation last year. The reality is that people cannot build a sustainable livelihood without safe, secure and affordable housing. It has to be part of our conversation.

We had a homelessness and housing affordability crisis before COVID. The COVID crisis is really just showing the significant gaps we have in our safety net.

For us, thinking short term is important. Let's also take the time to think in the longer term. I think you've heard some of that this afternoon.

I'll share with you a couple of ideas as part of my final remarks.

Fundamentally, what we have to do is make sure we keep Canadians housed. This means adequate income support to keep Canadians housed through the immediate crisis, but also into the future. We also know that low-income workers are at greatest risk of losing their jobs due to the economic shock. They are also the most precariously housed and are facing low vacancy rates and, as a result, high rents.

Here are a couple of ideas for all of us to consider.

We have CERB. What about a CERB rental support top-up? We have Canadians who qualify for this benefit. It's not necessarily enough to pay both basic needs and rent, but we could easily implement a top-up. You could think about this as 30% to 50% of the average rental cost in a market, to top up those benefits so that people can significantly reduce the impact of evictions in the future.

For those who don't qualify for CERB, we could think about an emergency rent benefit program, which would essentially help low-income Canadians avoid depleting all of their assets and then ultimately depending on social assistance.

We also have the beginnings of the implementation of the Canada housing benefit. Certainly, something we could look toward would be accelerated implementation.

My final comment would be that we need to really make a commitment to supportive housing. We have a significant need for investment in supportive housing, and for the federal government to be a contributor and to help build the thousands of supportive housing units that we're going to need to support the most challenged in terms of homelessness. I think that is part of our long-term solution. It's something that we advocate and support, and we hope that many others will as well.

With those remarks, I thank you for the opportunity to speak today. Also, thank you for all of your leadership. Finally, thanks to all of the front-line community organizations that are doing great work supporting our communities today.

2:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Mr. Clement.

I'll turn to the West Neighbourhood House and Maureen Fair, executive director.

2:55 p.m.

Maureen Fair Executive Director, West Neighbourhood House

Bonjour and thank you for inviting me to your panel today. In particular, I thank our Davenport MP, Julie Dzerowicz.

I want to share some other thanks and four suggestions for a more pandemic-proof infrastructure for low-income Canadians. One recommendation concerns income tax and three recommendations concern affordable housing.

First, let me explain that West Neighbourhood House, formerly known as St. Christopher House, is a multiservice not-for-profit charitable organization serving diverse communities in downtown Toronto, from preschoolers to homeless adults to seniors. I'll give a shout-out to Dan, because we're also, as he knows, an active member of United Way Greater Toronto, which has been a fantastic leader in this COVID crisis downtown.

To be clear, despite our name as a house, at this time we are not a housing provider.

The federal government has many ways to help in this immediate crisis and to pandemic-proof the future socio-economic infrastructure of our country, especially for low-income people.

First, you have helped enormously already with the bold, swift and generous Canada emergency response benefit. The announcement provided immediate mental relief to millions of newly unemployed, extremely stressed Canadians. The CERB is instrumental in helping people cover the high fixed costs of rent or mortgages, keeping their housing stabilized. The last thing Canada needed in this pandemic was to have thousands more people becoming homeless, and that was a real risk.

Thank you also for your continued responsiveness, iterating the design of the CERB as you take into consideration low-income workers in the gig economy and the informal economy, as well as the now highly valued, but still underpaid, front-line workers in essential services such as personal support workers and staff in homeless services. It's important that there are supports in place for each segment of Canada's diverse labour force.

CERB or “COVID cash” will also help keep the money flowing in local economies. I'm sure many of you share my deep concern about the viability of small businesses, particularly along the main streets and retail strips that contribute so much to the character of our neighbourhoods and towns across Canada. The CERB is really a tremendous and historic public policy achievement. I offer my sincere thanks and congratulations to everyone who contributed to this idea.

Building on the innovative thinking and the responsiveness of the CERB, I have several suggestions for the federal government to pandemic-proof infrastructure for low-income people going forward.

My first recommendation is to implement automatic income tax filing for low-income people. The pandemic has highlighted the value of this, as most volunteer income tax clinics closed because of the pandemic. John Stapleton and others have made a very good case that the government already has the information needed to get low-income people access to important tax-related benefits. Part of an improved infrastructure for low-income people would include more financial problem-solving services, and we are working with Prosper Canada and others on specific proposals for that.

Secondly, Canada needs to rethink the range of housing options available to lower-income people. The housing situation wasn't working before, and now the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted even more how the lack of affordable housing affects us all. One way to put this very crassly is this: It's in everyone's personal interest that homeless and very poor people are not filling our hospitals because of being exposed to COVID-19 in overcrowded shelters, rooming and boarding homes, or tent encampments.

The future well-being of Canada is linked at least in part to a more inclusive housing system for low-income Canadians, and I would recommend that it would have the following three features at a minimum.

First, give public and not-for-profit charitable housing providers the exclusive role of taking care of the housing needs of lower-income Canadians. They have the long view, the mandate and the obligation to hold community assets such as affordable housing for perpetuity. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that landlords have significant influence over the well-being of their tenants or residents. For vulnerable people, landlords are sometimes their lifeline. Not-for-profit charities are mission-focused and accountable to community governance, so they are well positioned to maximize their resources to keep vulnerable occupants safe.

Second, provide not-for-profit charitable housing providers with the grants—not loans—needed to build or purchase housing. Let's not spend taxpayer or donor dollars on financing costs. Saving on financing costs frees up public and donated money to invest in more affordable housing over time.

Third, preserve existing affordable housing by providing an incentive to private landlords to sell their buildings to not-for-profit charitable organizations. The federal government could forgive capital gains tax and/or capital cost allowance payback if a private sector landlord sold a multi-unit residential building to a non-profit. Yes, this is a cost to government in forgone revenue, but it is cheaper, significantly cheaper, than constructing new affordable housing. Clearly, both are needed.

There are thousands of relatively affordable rental units in small apartment buildings in neighbourhoods and towns across the country. Many are owned by families or small operators, but very vulnerable to being bought up by REITs and multinational operators.

We have done an analysis of this public policy option with our consultant, Jill Black, based on previous work developed by long-time housing experts Steve Pomeroy and Marion Steele. I'd be happy to forward that information to anybody.

To recap, thank you for taking the bold step of providing COVID cash, the CERB. Please pandemic-proof the infrastructure for low-income Canadians with income tax auto-filing and a public or not-for-profit housing system for them.

Thank you for your time.

3 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Maureen.

We'll turn to questions now. In order to get in as many questions as possible, I'm going to move the first round to five minutes and the second round to four minutes. We'll try to get 12 questions in.

We'll start with Ms. Vecchio.

3:05 p.m.


Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Thank you very much.

I'll start with Jim Bell.

Thank you very much for sharing everything with us. I have looked at some of the pandemic funding that's coming out. We have $157.5 million coming out of the Reaching Home program, Canada's homelessness strategy directives. We know that approximately 46% of that is now going to some of these communities that are known as “designated communities”.

Do you happen to fall under that, where you would receive a portion of this funding that's coming through as part of the Reaching Home initiative?

3:05 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Siloam Mission

Jim Bell

The short answer is yes, but we don't know as yet. We're not aware of the amount that our organization or others are getting. In fairness, I would expect that we're going to know that in the next week or so. I'm involved in conversations daily, or every second day, from the Reaching Home entity here in Winnipeg, called “End Homelessness Winnipeg”.

I would expect there will be dollars coming our way shortly from the Reaching Home program, and we're very grateful.

3:05 p.m.


Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON


Part of my role is women and gender equality. I'm looking at Canada's women's shelters. I know with the networks, they do not have all the different shelters.

In regard to the networks you're referring to that will be doing the Reaching Home in those communities, do you know if they will be able to reach all the necessary communities in your geographical area?

3:05 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Siloam Mission

Jim Bell

I believe so. I believe End Homelessness Winnipeg is doing a good job of trying to reach out to all organizations, including the ones you're talking about.

3:05 p.m.


Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON


Shayne, looking at the same thing, both you and Jim were talking about some of the social enterprise, the fact that a lot of times it's revenues that are coming into these types of organizations that allow for the types of critical services that are necessary. What are you finding when it comes to the reduction of revenue, and how are you addressing that issue?

3:05 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Lookout Housing and Health Society

Shayne Williams

We're actually seeing a reduction of revenue in small pieces of what Lookout Society does: the social enterprising side of things, some of the addiction recovery where we do not have our regular health referrals because people aren't being moved from location to location right now, in an effort to try to contain folks.

For the overall organization, because of the emergency response centres, we're seeing a great increase. Therefore, we have taken employees from failing programs at the moment. We've put those on pause, which is unfortunate because they have huge social benefit, but in this day and time, our staffing is our number one resource and we're redeploying people into the emergency resource centres across the region.

3:05 p.m.


Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON


Jim, how about you? Could you mention the revenues that you have? As I said, I know that in Barrie, Ontario, and out in Edmonton, Alberta, they have a lot of structures where their social enterprise is paying for these programs. What are you finding in Winnipeg?