Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Motion No. 245. I will start by addressing the part of the motion that asks the government to develop a precise and workable definition of the term homeless.
What might appear to be a fairly straightforward request is not nearly so straightforward. The member opposite gave a very lengthy and accurate accounting of valid definitions used by government and agencies throughout our country. I would argue that we should concern ourselves with definitions of the problem. I believe it is more appropriate for us to focus our attention on meeting the challenges of homelessness.
We know, for example, there is no single cause of homelessness. Therefore we cannot simply assume that any definition we come up with will adequately address the situation of Canadians who find themselves in need of housing, mental health care, rehabilitation or employment training.
People who are without shelter are on the streets for many reasons: some because of alcohol or substance abuse, some because of spousal abuse, and others are chronically unemployed or have mental health problems. There are many reasons people are on the streets and they should all be defined differently.
A community worker dealing with a single mother looking for shelter, a discharge worker trying to help a psychiatric patient reintegrate into the community, or any other type of homeless causes that community workers in Canada deal with every day could all produce a very different definition.
Similarly different communities also define the problem in different ways. Finding affordable housing in Toronto is very different from finding affordable housing in rural Saskatchewan. Living in poverty in Edmonton is different from living in poverty in rural New Brunswick. While these problems may both be equally acute, they are different. I feel that it would be almost impossible to develop a definition that would suit these situations which are equally unique.
The issue of homelessness is quantitatively different in large urban centres than it is in smaller towns and rural areas. For example, when the Minister of Labour and the federal co-ordinator for homelessness went across the country to discuss the homeless issues with mayors and community workers she heard many different definitions of the problem.
Some community groups were concerned with street youth, others with women who needed refuge from a difficult family situation. Others thought the priority should be unemployed men who needed food and temporary accommodation. These people did not have a common definition of homelessness but they did see a common problem.
They were not so much interested in defining the problem as they were in solving it. These community leaders told us that they wanted support from the Government of Canada that would meet the needs that they saw. They wanted the flexibility to develop local solutions that would meet the needs of the homeless in their individual communities.
Successive federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments have responded by bringing in countless different measures over the years that are designed to help those who are in need; measures such as the federal government's national homelessness initiative, which is attempting to co-ordinate an adequate response to this growing crisis on the federal side while working together with provincial, territorial and municipal governments, as well as community organizations and the private sector to address the issue.
The goal of this initiative is to prevent and alleviate homelessness. Its objectives are as follows: to facilitate community capacity development to address the local needs of the homeless by co-ordinating Government of Canada efforts and resources and enhancing the diversity of tools and resources available; to foster effective partnerships and investments that contribute to addressing the immediate and multifaceted needs of the homeless and to reducing homelessness in Canada; and to increase the awareness and understanding of homelessness in Canada.
There is also the supporting communities partnerships initiative that the government introduced last year to support communities across Canada in meeting the unique needs of the homeless in their communities as they see them.
The federal government is a partner, often along with provincial, territorial and municipal levels of government, community organizations and the private sector. However the needs are locally defined.
Of course there are some criteria. For example, one of the federal government's key objectives is to ensure that no individual is involuntarily on the street by ensuring that sufficient shelters and adequate support systems are available. Another is to reduce the number of individuals requiring emergency shelters and traditional and supportive housing through preventative initiatives, early intervention, health services, low cost housing and discharge planning. These are all based on a continuum that leads to independence and self-reliance.
A wide variety of organizations, including public health and educational institutions, not for profit organizations, and even individuals, are eligible to receive funding. The private sector also has an important role to play. We have encouraged them to contribute and in some cases participate in joint initiatives.
The Government of Canada has included the following 10 cities in the initiative: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax. They are designated as large urban centres where homelessness is most acute. Smaller communities or groups of communities working together in a region that can demonstrate a homeless problem are also eligible.
Recently, for example, the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada, on behalf of the federal co-ordinator for homelessness, announced federal funding of $19 million to assist the homeless in Edmonton and other parts of north and central Alberta as defined by these communities. Some $17 million will go to the Edmonton housing trust fund to work with the city agencies and private sector to meet the needs of the homeless in that city.
Edmonton mayor, Bill Smith, expressed his support for this approach. He said that his city was pleased to be working with the federal and provincial governments to address the issue of homelessness in Edmonton. Similarly, the provincial minister of seniors responsible for housing in the government of Alberta is also in favour of the partnership approach. However he reminds us that every community has different housing needs and circumstances that are best resolved by local planning and decision making.
From the federal government's perspective, we see homelessness as an issue that goes right to the heart of the kind of country we want to live in. Do we want a society that is generous and fair, that includes everyone and that is willing to provide support to those in need? Clearly, the vast majority of Canadians have already answered yes. They want a society that is generous, progressive and inclusive. Our experience to date tells us that our partners in the provincial and municipal governments and the community organizations that are working directly with the homeless, however they are defined, share this perspective.