Evidence of meeting #13 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was urban.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Madeleine Redfern  President, Ajungi Arctic Consulting
Jeff Morrison  Executive Director, Canadian Housing and Renewal Association
Steve Sutherland  Manager, Indigenous Caucus, Canadian Housing and Renewal Association
Heather Johnston  Executive Director, Projets Autochtones du Québec
Elizabeth Sam  As an Individual
David Eddy  Chief Executive Officer, Vancouver Native Housing Society

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Thank you.

Can I ask Ms. Redfern to chime in as well? Can you give us a bit of perspective from the north about how the national housing strategy is going to improve the housing stock situation up there?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Please give a brief answer if you could, Ms. Redfern.

4:05 p.m.

President, Ajungi Arctic Consulting

Madeleine Redfern

The $300 million will help build some much-needed public housing—just not enough, unfortunately. The $9 million for affordable housing.... Again, I think the Nunavut Housing Corporation is trying to see how it can best use that along with other monies to build more units. The challenge will be in the fact that there's not enough money to meet the entire needs of the territory.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Ms. Redfern, and Mr. Dong.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Ms. Chabot, you have the floor for six minutes.

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I thank all the witnesses for being here today.

My first questions will be directed to Ms. Johnston.

First, thank you, Ms. Johnston, for accepting our invitation. It is a privilege to have you here.

Next, I would like to pass on our best thoughts about Mr. Raphaël André.

I also wanted to salute your initiative. You are a not-for-profit organization, or NPO, fairly new to Montreal. Your goal is to respond to the needs of homeless indigenous people living in Montreal. Your presentation allows us to learn more about your organization and the services it offers.

Our study focuses on the challenges and barriers related to housing for indigenous populations, particularly in urban areas. You mentioned some of the challenges, including the provision of services. In terms of housing, in particular, you said that current housing does not meet the needs of the population you serve.

How could those needs be adequately met?

4:05 p.m.

Executive Director, Projets Autochtones du Québec

Heather Johnston

The issue of housing for the urban homeless population needs to be approached from a number of perspectives.

People experiencing homelessness in an urban setting are part of a true community, a community of solidarity. We see a lot of interdependence between these people. One of the current realities is that providing individual housing far from this community is a failure. These people are unable to adapt to a solitary life away from the community. Geographically, housing must be found that is within the community. This is extremely important.

In my opinion, housing that would adequately meet the needs of these communities would be balanced in terms of private and common spaces. We manage transitional apartments for the homeless indigenous community in Montreal. They are often individual units and there is no common space. Despite the great demand and the high rate of homelessness, we sometimes have difficulty allocating these units to individuals. When one lives alone in a dwelling and there are restrictions on visitors and consumption, one does not have the opportunity to live a community life. We can provide housing, but it may remain empty. There may be a high turnover of occupants. We can see that this leads to failure.

Housing must therefore be located in the centre of a community. It must be adapted to community life, and it must provide access to the mental health and addiction services that the community needs. There is too much “dry” housing, that is, housing in which people are not allowed to use. There is a need for housing that is adapted to the needs and realities of this community. There is housing that is vacant, but oftentimes, we can't get people into it. People don't find stability, because the housing doesn't really meet their needs, the needs of the community.

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Thank you for your answer.

Is there a forum among all housing programs, including the national housing strategy, where you can identify these needs so that the programs really meet what you have just described?

With respect to the strategy, could there be better communication? My understanding is that housing is being built, but it is not meeting the needs. How can we make sure it meets the needs? After all, that's the goal.

4:10 p.m.

Executive Director, Projets Autochtones du Québec

Heather Johnston

We need to develop housing programs; it takes more than housing, it takes a program. Housing must meet the needs of individuals as well as those of families. Intervention needs must be considered. We don't just provide housing, we provide intervention, psychosocial and medical services. We provide community spaces.

In Quebec, we work a lot with the organization AccèsLogis Québec, a Société d'habitation du Québec program. Programs like AccèsLogis Québec simply offer a building. You have to design housing programs, not building programs. We need programs that meet all the needs of people, which are complex.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Ms. Johnston. Your time has expired.

Ms. Chabot, it is with great pleasure that I inform you that your microphone is on your head.

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

I know; it's a challenge.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Next is Ms. Collins for six minutes, please.

Welcome to the committee, Ms. Collins. You have the floor.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Laurel Collins NDP Victoria, BC

Thank you so much.

My first two questions are to Ms. Redfern.

We heard from Ms. Johnston about the importance of on-site wraparound housing supports. I'm coming to you from Victoria, the homelands of the Lekwungen speaking people, the Esquimalt and the Songhees first nations. We have the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness here, which offers culturally supportive, affordable housing. I have spoken to them and many others who have talked about how wraparound housing supports are so important and crucial in supporting the emotional and spiritual health of individuals.

I am wondering if you could first speak about what types of wraparound housing supports you're aware of in Nunavut, and whether you believe the federal government needs to be doing more regarding targeted support for wraparound on-site supportive housing.

4:15 p.m.

President, Ajungi Arctic Consulting

Madeleine Redfern

When developing the new program for Uquutaq, what was important was to make the community groups aware of, under the Reaching Home funding, the value and need to develop stronger and better partnerships among the groups, so we were beginning to facilitate that. Part of the problem sometimes is that, especially with the highly transient population, you get new people coming in and they really focus on their own instead of remembering to reach out.

We do have a bit of a challenge, as well, in trying to increase the number of Inuit who participate on the community boards.

I'm a big proponent, also, of our needing to see more Inuit actually staffing these community groups. Tukisigiarvik is one group that does a lot of that, where you don't know who the Inuit board members are versus the staff and Inuit clients. That's the best model, so reminding and getting the groups to work together so that the clients have access to more services is really important.

There's quite a lot available in Iqaluit. As I was saying earlier, unfortunately in the smaller communities there's a lot less. There may be no shelters. There may be a fly in, fly out mental health worker. The vacancy rates for those are very high in the government. It's 50%. There is yet to be an addictions treatment centre, but there are plans to develop that. There is funding for these. The challenge for the groups is to be aware of the funding to set up these societies. Sometimes you can get that far, but then there's a lack of buildings for these societies to work out of.

If we're going to tackle this, I absolutely agree with you that we need to look at what a client or a community needs to help people who are most at risk, homeless or near homeless, to have these support services so that they can address a lot of the challenges they face to be successful. This includes more training and education, and housing tied to Inuit employment plans to therefore have more local people access housing. A lot of our housing is staff housing, and predominantly people in the south coming up get prioritization for that.

There's a lot of things that need to be looked at.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Laurel Collins NDP Victoria, BC

Ms. Redfern, thank you so much.

I have about two minutes left, so I want to ask Mr. Morrison and Mr. Sutherland to elaborate a bit on this.

The government has been promising an urban, rural and northern indigenous housing strategy for years, without action, so I wanted to hear from you on what you see as the critical next steps to ensure that we have that kind of strategy, that it is by and for indigenous people, and how crucial this is to address the current housing crisis we're seeing.

4:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Housing and Renewal Association

Jeff Morrison

Thank you for the question.

I think the critical next step is to act. We are looking to get, as soon as we can, an announcement of an urban, rural and northern indigenous strategy. As Steve and I mentioned in our remarks, our caucus, which is made up of urban, rural and northern indigenous housing providers, has developed—it wasn't us but they who developed it—a vision and, in fact, guidance and a plan for what that strategy could look like. It's our so-called FIBI strategy.

We are just finalizing a governance structure for what an operational structure to operate that strategy would look like. In fact, there are other models already in place that we've modelled this FIBI strategy on. This is in Minister Hussen's mandate letter, so I think now is the time to say, okay, we've done the study and there's consensus. Now, let's act.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Laurel Collins NDP Victoria, BC

That's great.

I might have just 20 seconds. Could you quickly talk about the needs of people with disabilities and indigenous peoples with disabilities in the strategy?

January 28th, 2021 / 4:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Housing and Renewal Association

Jeff Morrison

There's no doubt that the needs of indigenous peoples with disabilities are a unique situation. Between what we hope will be an urban, rural and northern strategy, as well as some of the investments already contained in the existing national housing strategy, we feel that there are opportunities to combine and to layer some of those programs.

As well, I think it was Ms. Redfern who talked about the importance of partnerships with municipalities and other orders of government, so that we're building not only the bricks and mortar but building in an absolutely culturally appropriate way to ensure accessibility for those with disabilities. Those all need to layer on top of each other.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Mr. Morrison and Ms. Collins.

Next we have Mr. Schmale, please, for five minutes.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Thank you very much to our witnesses for the testimony. It's a great conversation today, by the way, and there are great questions.

I want to start with my friend Ms. Redfern, if I could, who has been dealing with -40°C weather.

I perked up when you mentioned jurisdictional issues and the challenges that go from there. You touched on it a bit. I could be wrong, but I think you had a bit more to say on that. Did you want to expand a bit more? I'd love to hear about that.

4:20 p.m.

President, Ajungi Arctic Consulting

Madeleine Redfern

Thank you.

I think we often put up jurisdictional barriers as a way to say that one level of government is not responsible for fixing the housing or the homelessness issue, when in fact I believe we all have a responsibility. It's often just a question of coming together in the same room and figuring out what particular role one can play or is prepared to play. It's too often used as a way of not moving forward.

Having been in politics and having seen what can be done, such as the Uquutaq shelter, I will say that's actually one excellent example where five different main actors, including different federal departments, actually for once got all their acts together and helped each other make something happen. It took a lot of work, effort and finessing, but it can be done on a larger scale.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Yes, I agree with that for sure, and I'm glad you mentioned that. Do you think there is an easier way? I'll ask other panellists too, but I'll continue with you, Ms. Redfern, if I could.

Yes, the federal government has the primary responsibility for this, but for a lot of the programs that get started, whether they be federal, provincial, municipal or with other stakeholders involved, the process always seems to be very complex and very difficult to access. Some people on the call mentioned whether they know or not that the program actually exists in the first place, but then there's filling out the application, which seems to be even more complex these days than ever before. There's the staff time it takes, along with the waiting period and then the implementation. Then, when you finally get it, by the time you sign the contracts, sometimes that window to complete the project is very narrow.

I'll start with you and then open it up to the floor.

4:20 p.m.

President, Ajungi Arctic Consulting

Madeleine Redfern

I think I had the benefit of being in politics at the same time as actually helping the community group, truth be told, with the vast majority of their applications, so I managed to get first-hand experience that a lot of what was being requested was for the purpose of due diligence and to ensure that the funding was actually going to go to a project or to a group that was going to deliver.

The problem is that, with the community organization board, I had to produce probably almost a hundred different types of documents for the CMHC co-investment application. Some of it, I saw, had little or no value—and I understand the respective roles of what a politician or a government is required to produce.

I think we saw in the past how for the Auditor General of Canada, in particular with what had been the former Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, there tended to be an onerous amount of extra paperwork for northern, remote or indigenous communities. I think that stems from a perception that they lack capacity and that we can't trust them.

Yes, sometimes we do have capacity issues, but figuring out what is the necessary and good data to demonstrate that a project can and should be funded, and recognizing that timelines and some flexibility are absolutely required.... As I said earlier, it was almost out of sheer stubbornness that we managed to get the Uquutaq project to the point where the doors opened, with an extremely patient seller of the two buildings, because most of our local contractors would not have waited two years for the CMHC co-investment process.

Similarly, right now we have a very sympathetic seller for Agvvik, but you can't expect that level of patience.

I was just talking to the Nunavut Housing Corporation guy, and he said that we get these high-level political directions that we need these programs to work, and then the bureaucrats are meeting with the bureaucrats and things just stall. We need to see some better direction or some better accountability between the bureaucrats and the politicians, because the money is not going out the door. The people are in need. People are dying, and that's just not acceptable.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

I agree. Thank you.

Mr. Morrison, I'll get to you on my next round.