Evidence of meeting #36 for Finance in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was shelters.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Boromir Vallée Dore  Coordinator, Réseau SOLIDARITÉ Itinérance du Québec
Bill VanGorder  Chief Operating Officer and Chief Policy Officer, Canadian Association of Retired Persons
Melpa Kamateros  Executive Director, Shield of Athena Family Services
Charlie Ursell  Practice Lead, Watershed Partners
Lise Martin  Executive Director, Women's Shelters Canada
Ben Brunnen  Vice-President, Oil Sands, Fiscal and Economic Policy, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Michel Tremblay  Senior Vice-President, Policy and Innovation, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
Pierre Céré  Spokesperson, Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses
Ian MacPherson  Executive Director, Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association
Gisèle Tassé-Goodman  President, Provincial Secretariat, Réseau FADOQ
Paul Kershaw  Founder, Generation Squeeze
Danis Prud'homme  Director General, Provincial Secretariat, Réseau FADOQ

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Pat Kelly Conservative Calgary Rocky Ridge, AB

Do you have any comment on the budget commitment that the government made on OAS? The part of it that I thought was somewhat curious was the timing of the one-time payment for OAS-eligible seniors. It was described as for seniors over 75, but it really was for seniors over 74, I guess, unless your birthday is in July.

Do you have a comment on that particular decision on those particular seniors, the older seniors only? What do you think is behind that particular age cut-off where some seniors get it and some don't?

4:10 p.m.

Chief Operating Officer and Chief Policy Officer, Canadian Association of Retired Persons

Bill VanGorder

I'm certainly not in a position to comment on why it could happen. I can certainly tell you what seniors' reactions are. I can tell you that there are a number of people—my friends—who are very jealous of me because I'll actually get it and they won't, and we're not that far apart. What's magic about age 75 is a huge question. The amount, $500, as I said in my presentation, I know that the government.... I talk regularly with the Minister of Seniors. We have some good one-on-one conversations. I know what she's thinking and what her department is trying to do. However, the perception of older Canadians, especially now those under 75, is that they've had very little help. Everybody else is getting money and they're not.

You all know and I know that that's not totally true. There has been money that has gone through the United Way and others to get to them, but they haven't seen any of that money and, frankly, it hasn't been promoted very well, so they don't even know where it's been spent.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Pat Kelly Conservative Calgary Rocky Ridge, AB

All right.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

We will have to end it here.

We'll go to Ms. Koutrakis, followed by Mr. Ste-Marie.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Annie Koutrakis Liberal Vimy, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome to all our presenters this afternoon. Thank you for your very thoughtful comments and presentations. My two questions will be for Ms. Kamateros and Ms. Martin.

I want to touch on the additional affordable housing in the budget that was tabled earlier this week by the first female finance minister, our good colleague Chrystia Freeland. The budget proposes to provide an additional $2.5 billion over seven years, starting in 2021-22, to the CMHC. Within that amount, $1.5 billion is for the rapid housing initiative, which is going to start this year to address the urgent needs for vulnerable Canadians.

Ms. Kamateros, you mentioned in your presentation that earlier this year you received federal funding through this rapid housing initiative to develop 17 affordable housing units for vulnerable women. These are in my riding of Vimy. Can you provide the committee with additional detail on how this funding will be used and on the impact it will have on women facing conjugal violence in Laval? I know that you touched on it a little bit, but if you could expand on that, I'd greatly appreciate it.

4:10 p.m.

Executive Director, Shield of Athena Family Services

Melpa Kamateros

The second-step resource is for women who want to transition to a more autonomous level of existence without violence after their stay at an emergency shelter. In Quebec these resources were sorely lacking. It took us a long time to mount the funding for our resource.

I do respect the Canadian government. We didn't go through CMHC. We went through the Société d'habitation du Québec. The funds were very slow in coming, I have to say. That has nothing to do with anything other than the way the system is set up. I'm wondering how it can be made more efficient so these resources can open quicker.

In our case, we're going to have 17 apartments, which is probably going to be the biggest one in Quebec. We're going to provide the integrated services as well. We're going to have a community kitchen and it's going to be fabulous. It's not going to serve only the Shield of Athena; it's going to also handle women coming from all areas of Quebec, particularly the three shelters that have not had any second-step housing in that area for at least 30 years.

I've been around for close to 30 years and there has been no development of second-step housing in Laval until recently. With the new federal funds, a lot of emergency shelters that I know personally are going to add second-step resources quicker. For that, we're very thankful.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Annie Koutrakis Liberal Vimy, QC

Maybe the provincial government program is how you wound up having the funds, but I know that you did receive funding directly through that program from the feds through the rapid housing initiative. If I'm not mistaken, it was something like $1.6 million to help with this second-step housing.

You mentioned in your testimony that you would like to see some immediate financial support for women fleeing conjugal violence. As part of the funds we presented in this budget, $315.4 million, starting this year, 2021-22, have been geared over seven years through the Canada housing benefit to increase direct financial assistance for low-income women and children fleeing violence to help with their rent payments.

Is this going to address some of what you mentioned in your presentation?

April 22nd, 2021 / 4:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Shield of Athena Family Services

Melpa Kamateros

It will help.

At this point in time, the movements—the women's rights movement and the shelter movement—are on their hands and knees everywhere in Canada. It's not only in Quebec. Everything helps. As I mentioned before, they're even thinking of making an emergency fund where women can leave. If they don't have taxi money or hotel money, they will have this through the provision of the emergency fund.

Sometimes, although the intentions are really wonderful, the delays are horrific. It's more that than anything else that has to be looked at. How can we get funds rapidly to women who are in need of them?

I think that women victims of conjugal violence need a stipend, an allowance and recognition that they are women victims of conjugal violence. That should commence when they come into a shelter and it should finish when they have received their autonomy. If you go across the board, most of the representatives of the shelters will say the same thing. Everything counts.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

We are about out of time, but did you want in, Lise? I kind of thought you did.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Annie Koutrakis Liberal Vimy, QC

Yes, please, I'd like to hear Lise.

Mr. Chair, if you will allow me, I know it might be over the time, but I know that Minister Monsef announced that an agreement had been reached to distribute $36.3 million in funding to women's shelters, sexual assault centres and other organizations that address gender-based violence. I was wondering if Ms. Martin could update the committee on how this funding was used and what kind of impact it had.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Okay, Lise, you can do both. Be fairly quick, though.

4:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Women's Shelters Canada

Lise Martin

I believe I explained the transfers in my presentation. Yes, all of those transfers were done. There was a lot of flexibility allowed, so it was really up to the shelters to decide on their priorities.

For many of them, it was around human resources, bringing in extra staffing, the fact that staff had to stay home. There was all of the craziness, if you want, at the beginning of the pandemic. Then there were also a lot of resources that went to finding alternative accommodation, because, as Melpa explained, at the beginning of the pandemic, basically if a shelter could accommodate 10 families, it was reduced to five—pretty much by 50%. You had to find alternative accommodations. A lot of that was in the empty hotel or motel spaces, but those had to be paid for. Then there were PPE resources.

That's how these funds were used. The shelters do have until September 30 to spend those funds.

In terms of the housing piece, it's obviously a welcomed announcement. I actually asked Minister Monsef on Monday to give me a contact at CMHC, because the issue has been partly the slowness of the funds going out and also the transparency. It's really hard to track the money, so as a national organization that's a priority for us.

One of the challenges for the shelters—and many emergency shelters such as Melpa's are opening second-stage shelters—is that you have to generally put up 40% of the total cost, and that's a big amount for shelters, especially in this environment.

Also, shelters are not builders, so there's a big learning curve. There's a 25% commitment in the housing strategy for funds for women, and we feel very strongly that it's very important those targets be met and surpassed, I would say.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

We will have to move on, Lise. I'm sorry.

Next is Mr. Ste-Marie, followed by Mr. Julian.

Gabriel.

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Hello, everyone.

I would have liked to put my questions to the representative of the Réseau solidarité itinérance du Québec, but he seems to no longer be with us.

Mr. Clerk, can you confirm that the witness is no longer here? Is he having any technical difficulties? Is he going to come back?

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

He's here, I see him.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Yes, he is here at the bottom of my screen, Gabriel.

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Good.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Can you hear us, Mr. Vallée Dore?

4:20 p.m.

Coordinator, Réseau SOLIDARITÉ Itinérance du Québec

Boromir Vallée Dore

Yes; I apologize.

Something blew up, so I had no power. I'm now using the battery in my laptop.

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

I see.

Good afternoon, Mr. Vallée Dore. I'm going to hurry up and ask you my questions before your battery runs out.

Do you believe that the latest federal budget, which was presented on Monday, will adequately reduce and prevent homelessness in Quebec in the context of the pandemic?

4:20 p.m.

Coordinator, Réseau SOLIDARITÉ Itinérance du Québec

Boromir Vallée Dore

Thank you for your question, Mr. Ste-Marie.

First of all, with respect to the $299 million announced for 2021-2022, I would remind you that this money will be available through the emergency envelope to support the VCS COVID 3 program and there is not a lot of flexibility in that regard. We are still waiting to hear when we will be able to use this money. Confirmation is slow in coming.

So, we were pleasantly surprised by the $567 million announcement. This is close to what we had asked for to adequately address the needs of people experiencing homelessness in Quebec. However, there is uncertainty about how this money will flow to community organizations.

Will this be through the emergency envelopes for the VCS COVID 3 program, or through the regular envelopes?

We are under the impression that the government is offering us premium unleaded gasoline, but telling us to put it in a diesel engine, i.e. they are offering us funding through the emergency envelopes for the VCS COVID 3 program. So we are not making any progress at all.

So, we're hoping that the government will confirm that we're going to be able to use these monies in the same way that we can use the regular Reaching Home envelopes. This will give us a lot more flexibility to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness. We look forward to that announcement.

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

All right. We'll try to verify that on our end as well.

On the other hand, you presented the five pillars of the National Policy to Fight Homelessness. You said that some indicators were in the red.

Can you tell us about those indicators?

4:20 p.m.

Coordinator, Réseau SOLIDARITÉ Itinérance du Québec

Boromir Vallée Dore

Several people have spoken today about the troubling situation of people in vulnerable situations, including women. We see the same thing with people experiencing homelessness.

We look at the current situation from the angle of Quebec's National Policy to Fight Homelessness. Housing is the first axis. It is central to both the prevention of homelessness and the reduction of homelessness. It is alarming to note that the housing vacancy rate is currently below the equilibrium threshold of 3% in all of Quebec's metropolitan regions.

The second focus of the policy is health. People experiencing homelessness are at increased risk for infections and diseases. When they have COVID-19, they are 20 times more likely to be hospitalized, 10 times more likely to be admitted to intensive care, and even 5 times more likely to die. Moreover, when these individuals go to seek care, they face barriers to access and are denied care.

Income is the third axis of the policy. This indicator is also in the red. There is currently a record increase in the cost of the grocery basket of 4%. In 2020, there was an increase in demand at food banks of between 30% and 50%. There is also an expected increase in the number of households spending more than 50% of their income on food.

The fourth axis of the policy is education, social insertion and socio-professional insertion. Despite a rebound in employment, conditions remain inferior to those that existed before the pandemic. According to what we have observed, it is mainly young people and women who have paid the price of the pandemic in terms of employment.

The last axis is social cohabitation and issues related to judiciarization. Judiciarization issues are certainly present in Quebec, as our members report to us. According to a study conducted in Montreal, eight times more tickets were issued to people experiencing homelessness between 1994 and 2018.

The indicators are indeed in the red.

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

That is worrying.

Thank you very much.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

This is your last question, Gabriel, and you have a minute.