That a special committee be appointed to conduct hearings on the matter of homelessness and to propose a national plan to prevent and end homelessness; that this Committee consist of ten members of which six shall be from the government party, three from the Official Opposition, and one from the New Democratic Party, provided that the Chair is from the government party; that in addition to the Chair, there be one Vice-Chair from each of the recognized opposition parties; that the Committee have all the powers of a standing committee as provided in the Standing Orders; that the members to serve on the said Committee be appointed by the Whip of each party by depositing with the Clerk of the House a list of his or her party’s members of the Committee no later than a week after the adoption of the said motion; that the quorum of the Committee be as provided for in Standing Order 118, provided that at least one member of each recognized party be present; that membership substitutions be permitted from time to time, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2); and that the Committee report to the House no later than 12 months after the adoption of this motion.
Madam Speaker, if I could be so bold as to state, I think I know what some members might be thinking in the chamber about my private member's motion that would create a special committee to develop a national plan to end and prevent homelessness. I think some are thinking, “Oh, no, not another committee”. To that I would say that this special committee and its mandate would be different. I can imagine the response to that might be, “But that is what they all say”.
This time it is going to be different. Let me lay out my case for my private member's motion to create a national plan to end and prevent homelessness. It is not just another committee to engage in busy work. Instead, it is an opportunity for parliamentarians from all political parties to roll up their sleeves, to work in partnership with government and communities, to create a road map to end homelessness, not to manage or reduce it, but to end it.
If the bias against committees were not enough to contend with, I am speaking on homelessness immediately on the heels of the government's important announcement of a national housing strategy. I know it is hard to see the newsworthiness of a plan. However, a national plan to end and prevent homelessness is the next critical step to the strategies, targets, and principles of the national housing strategy.
Prior to this first hour of debate on my motion, I reached out to my fellow parliamentarians, and met one on one with many of my colleagues, both in opposition and from the government side. I found more agreement and commonality than disagreement and partisanship. I did not hear any disagreement that we are in a crisis.
According to recent data from CMHC, 1.7 million Canadians are paying more than one-third of their income for housing, with 400,000 of them paying more than 50% of their income on housing that is either substandard, not in good repair, even unsafe, or does not meet their needs. For many Canadians, that means living in overcrowded homes or apartments. No one that I spoke to denied the unacceptable reality we find ourselves in when it comes to housing and homelessness in this country.
Further, I did not meet a parliamentarian who thought the current emergency response to the crisis made any sense, whether it be the toll it takes on people's lives, or the wasted resources and escalation of high-cost emergency services, like emergency room visits, ambulances, and police calls.
Many of the parliamentarians I spoke to were well aware of the statistics. The annual cost of institutional responses to each person for hospitals and jails was $66,000 to $120,000, and for emergency shelters, $13,000 to $42,000, versus the cost of affordable housing of $5,000 to $8,000, or $13,000 to $18,000 for supportive or transitional housing. However, these statistics do not take into account the human and social costs. I found parliamentarians were on the same page that homelessness is cheaper to fix than to ignore.
It was a pleasure to speak with the MP from Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner who sat on Medicine Hat's committee that led to their plan to end homelessness. Of course, Medicine Hat was the first city in Canada to end homelessness. In 2014, the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador announced its plan to end homelessness. It set goals and benchmarks that made sense to its communities. In 2015, the City of Guelph, Ontario announced its plan to end homelessness. There are many more.
MPs of all political stripes represent communities that have tackled and transformed our response to homelessness from the ground up, and those responses have achieved astounding results. Communities like Hamilton, Lethbridge, Calgary, to name a few, have created plans, brought people around a common table, rolled up their sleeves and said that they can do this. They can end homelessness in their community.
I have had my own experience of the power of a plan to transform a community's response, or lack of response, to homelessness. As the CEO of the United Way, I was part of a leadership team of business people, labour groups, city officials, indigenous government leaders, and folks with the lived experience of homelessness who drafted our community's first plan to end homelessness.
In 2006-07 in Saskatoon, we experienced an economic boom, like many communities in Alberta. With the economic boom came a skyrocketing housing crisis. This saw people with full-time, good-paying jobs in Saskatoon unable to afford rent and living in emergency shelters. We had students living in cars, because of the high cost of housing, so they could afford their tuition.
This new reality of homelessness galvanized our community. From CEOs to labour leaders, to our then police chief, we could no longer turn a blind eye or hope that someone would do something. That is when we turned to our neighbours in Alberta and learned about the remarkable work that cities, community organizations, and two provincial governments were doing with plans to end homelessness. It was a game-changer for us.
Where our provincial government feared to tread, we, on the other hand, rolled up our sleeves and invested in housing homeless people based on the housing first model, a pillar of plans to end homelessness in Alberta. The program was called “journey home”. In its first year people helped by journey home saw an 82% drop in the use of high-cost emergency services, like ambulance, police responses, emergency-room visits, and hospitalization. The return on investment was for every dollar invested, $2 was saved. One participant in the program had been homeless for 17 years. The average length of homelessness for participants was three to five years. One person said that housing first saved their life.
Results like we have seen in Saskatoon are occurring in cities and communities across the country, from small cities to large urban centres. The players around the table may be different, but what they all have in common is a plan, a road map that holds them to account, to timelines and outcomes, and a goal to end homelessness in their community.
My motion is about building on that success, building on what works, and rolling it up to a national level. When I was visiting with my colleagues, I was pleasantly surprised by the non-partisan tone to our conversation. That is not to say I was not grilled, in a very nice way, as to how my motion would make a difference, but the conversations were excellent.
I think I can say that the majority of parliamentarians I spoke with realize the need for the federal government to step back in to addressing housing and homelessness, and they saw the federal government's national homelessness initiative, started in 1999 under a Liberal government, and the subsequently renamed homelessness partnering strategy in 2006, under a Conservative government, as important federal government initiatives that have made a positive difference for communities tackling and addressing homelessness.
Many also cited the ground-breaking work of the Mental Health Commission's project at home/chez soi as greatly advancing our understanding of housing first, and the project's positive impact on those who are homeless, most marginalized, and most vulnerable to great suffering.
I think parliamentarians can work better together. I believe Canadians expect that, and believe that collaboration between parliamentarians is possible and needed, if we are to address the defining issues of our time, like the crisis of homelessness.
I am presenting a motion on homelessness the week the government released their first ever national housing strategy. I commend it for that. This is good news. There is still a lot of work to do and much of the detail yet to be determined. It is still somewhat, I feel, a work in progress. For example, the work of reimagining the homelessness partnering strategy is still ongoing, and I believe will be released in the spring of 2018.
I would like to make two comments on the national housing strategy. First, I would like to see a more aggressive goal on homelessness. I would like to see the government make a commitment to end homelessness. All the elements are there within the plan, almost, to do this. I believe that parliamentarians working on a special committee to create a national plan to end and prevent homelessness could do just that. The special committee could connect the dots, build on the work being done by the government on the homelessness partnering strategy, work with experts and communities, and bring us to a plan and a goal to end homelessness.
Second, I, and I believe many others, would have liked to see the strategy funded at the front end versus being back loaded. In other words, have the big investment come early and not so much stretched over many years, and certainly not past the next general election.
I point to the example of my own community. The United Way stepped in early with funds to help our community realize sooner rather than later the difference a plan and housing first could make in addressing homelessness. This allowed other funders and governments to step in after success was demonstrated. I can see the federal government doing a similar strategy.
I was glad to see the government identifying data as a key pillar of the strategy. Better data will be key to being able to not only understand the scope and size of the problem we are trying to address but to adequately measure progress and to hold multiple partners, including provinces and territories, to account for investments.
We now estimate that a minimum of 235,000 people will experience homelessness in any given year in Canada, and every night, there are 35,000 homeless people in Canada. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and we do not have to reinvent the wheel. Communities right across Canada, with elected officials of all political stripes, are addressing the issue head on with local plans to end homelessness. We need to build on this work, and we can.
Communities want to see a national plan they can see themselves being a part of, one that delineates exactly how the federal government can be a real and valued partner at their community plan tables.
My Motion No. 147, calling for a special committee to create a national plan to end and prevent homelessness, is a way forward, in tandem with the national housing strategy.
I want to see, and I believe Canadians want to see, parliamentarians roll up their sleeves, put partisanship aside, and in partnership with communities, experts, other governments, and those with the lived experience, put the details on a national plan to end and prevent homelessness.
Our goal must be to end homelessness. It is possible, and it is probable.
Is it possible that communities across Canada and North America have it wrong? Do plans to end homelessness not really work? Is it not possible to end homelessness? Could all these communities be flying in the wrong direction? I do not think so. It is possible. Anything is possible, but it is most likely not probable.
When John F. Kennedy told his fellow Americans that they would put a man on the moon, he did not know if it was probable. When he was making that statement, he knew it was possible, and he wanted others to believe in that possibility, so the NASA nerds got to work, and the possible became probable, and of course, ultimately, the reality.
We have what we need to end homelessness. We have a homelessness equivalent of the NASA nerds. We have a federal government that is giving us an indication that it is possible. We need a special committee to bring all that together to build on what is working and to go where we have not gone before. We can make the possible probable and end homelessness in Canada.