Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to share with the House that, yet again, View Magazine in Edmonton has chosen me to be its favourite member of Parliament in Edmonton. It is a great honour and I am humbled by it.
I will be splitting my time with the member for Essex.
I too will speak in support of the call of my colleague, the member for Saskatoon West, for rapid action on housing and homelessness, particularly the aspects raised in this motion, which are that 90% of the funding for the government's national housing strategy will not flow until after the next election and that most of the funding depends on collaboration with provincial governments and the private sector. However, equally so, my concern is that the government still refuses to honour proposals by my party.
Some of my colleagues tabled proposals in the House to make the right to housing a human right. The New Democrats will continue to raise that matter. I hear from my colleague across the way that Liberals are working on that, thinking about it and consulting on it. I am hoping to hear an action word on that before the end of the year.
According to Homeward Trust, a mechanism that deals with a lot of the problems with homelessness in my city, the number of people experiencing street homelessness was reported to have decreased substantially since 2008 when the numbers were at an all-time high. However, according to a 2016 homelessness count in my city, almost 2,000 people were still experiencing homelessness and indigenous individuals were nine times more likely to experience homelessness. I point that out because it is my understanding that the constitutional obligation to respect the rights of indigenous Canadians is not restricted to those living on reserve, but indigenous Canadians no matter where they live in our country. Seventy-four per cent were male, 25% were female and 48% were identified as indigenous, yet only 5.4% of Edmonton's overall population identify as indigenous. That is of deep concern.
There is a critical need for housing to be provided to indigenous Edmontonians and the numbers are rising. Edmonton has one of the largest populations of indigenous people in Canada, and it is terrific to have them. Yesterday, we honoured a Métis poet from Alberta, who is a Rhodes scholar. It is important that indigenous Canadians also be provided the opportunity for decent housing.
Twenty-nine per cent of the homeless population is under the age of 18 in Edmonton. Women make up 40% of those provisionally accommodated. Apparently that means people who are couch surfing. Three per cent were recent immigrants or refugees, which is reprehensible, and 70 people were veterans of the military or RCMP. However, based on my personal observations during the heat wave this summer, I was delivering clothing to one of the homeless shelters, the Bissell Centre on the north side of the river, and to my horror, I discovered several hundred people trying to sit in the shade to get out of the heat.
I went home and came back with cases of water, only to discover the new Mustard Seed shelter across from my office also had 50 to 100 people trying to seek some kind of shelter from the heat. Right now, the Mustard Seed is trying to get support for the only housing shelter for the homeless on the south side of the river, an ongoing struggle. It is not enough just to give money. We need community support that would benefit those less fortunate.
Julian Daly, who is the executive director of the Boyle Street centre and has been delivering services for the homeless for decades, also contests these lower numbers. He says that based on his direct observance, the need is far greater than the one-off counts. In 2016, he advised the count could merely be seen as anecdotal and did not reflect what workers saw on the front lines. They found 800 people living rough in the river valley, a 43% increase, and from my experience because I live in the area, most of them are indigenous. He also suggested another key indicator of the homeless was the doubling of people using Boyle Street Community Services as their mailing address. Therefore, they have no place to even receive mail. It is difficult to seek employment when people do even not have a place to receive mail. When applying for jobs, people have to give a street address.
That same year, Homeward Trust officials expressed concern about the low reported number of homeless; they thought the numbers were much higher. People in a wide range of occupations in my city, including restaurant servers, retail clerks, hairstylists and barbers, cannot afford even a one-bedroom apartment on their single incomes. Regrettably, a lot of apartments are being converted to condos and very few of the private developers are interested in building rental properties. They want to build the condominiums because they are easier to sell.
A diverse mix of Edmontonians experience homelessness, including young men, families, teenagers and seniors. In 2014, children and youth under 24 accounted for 29% of the homeless. At one point, working families were actually camping in our city parks. Matters have improved since then, because we have a dedicated mayor and council, but that is how critical it was, even in a province known to be one of the wealthier ones.
In 2009, the City of Edmonton, to its credit, launched a 10-year plan to end homelessness, and it outlined a number of initiatives to lower homeless numbers, including providing housing options and reducing shelter use, yet as reported in 2016, the demand for affordable housing has more than tripled since 2014. The waitlist for the group that provides social and affordable housing now sits at 4,300, compared with just 1,200 in the fall of 2014. In March 2016, the Alberta government, to its credit, changed the rules for those applying for affordable housing. Albertans now no longer need to declare their disability or education savings plans as part of asset testing. It is much easier now for them to claim some kind of a subsidy for affordable housing.
It is important to also hear from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Its members have said:
Housing is more than just a roof over your head. Safe, affordable housing makes our cities and communities welcoming places to live, work and start a business. It's also important to retaining workers and attracting newcomers to enrich our neighbourhoods and drive economic growth.
The federation commended the government for the announced November 2017 national housing strategy, saying that it responded to the federation's recommendations. However, this past May, Canada's big-city mayors, chaired by my mayor, Mayor Don Iveson, again issued the priority call for federal financial support for municipalities. Top of their list was support for affordable housing. Despite major commitments from Ottawa and a number of key issues, Mayor Iveson advised that municipalities were still waiting for results, particularly on affordable housing. He said:
On paper we’ve made huge progress with the national housing strategy, but none of us have actually seen any dollars flow yet from that strategy into our communities.
He added that decades of underfunding had created an acute backlog of social housing. Although Iveson noted that the federal government had “stemmed the bleeding” in recent years by reversing the cuts, the mayor and others have raised the concern that the budget before this one, the 2017-18 budget, was a lost opportunity. He said:
The housing crisis, particularly in our largest cities, continues to be a sore spot.... We haven’t been adding to the social housing inventory in this country for really 20 years in any substantial way so that backlog is real.
The mayors of Canada's biggest cities say they do not need the federal government to pony up more money for affordable housing units; they just need the cash to move faster.
As others have noted in the House, we look at the chart in the budget, and yes, there is some money in this budget but the vast majority, 90% of it, will not flow until the next election. Not just the big city mayors but the mayors of smaller communities and rural areas and indigenous leaders are saying that a good part of that money ought to be released now. We are calling for at least 50% of that money now. They have expressed concern that the Liberals' housing plan outlines billions in federal cash and matching funds from the provinces and territories, but much of the money will take years to flow.
The big city mayors caucus has pressed the finance minister to loosen the federal purse strings so that money for repairs is spent in the coming fiscal year while details are worked out in cash for new construction.
There is a great appreciation from the co-ops. I have a lot of co-ops in my riding. I am very proud that the vast majority of co-op housing has been built and operates in my riding. We have co-op housing for the artistic community and for the disabled. There is a Ukrainian co-op. Co-ops are providing very important housing.
They really appreciated the agreement to continue that funding, but there is the concern that still there is not going to be that additional funding to continue to support low-income people in that housing.
During questions, I will be happy to share many of the incredibly innovative programs in my city alone that could move forward expeditiously if we can simply flow that federal cash more expeditiously.