Feb 17, 2009

Talk of addressing homelessness in Throne Speech remains just that


Yesterday’s Throne Speech got me excited with its promise of finally addressing homelessness in BC. Like everyone else, I expected the economy to be the main focus of the document and was not surprised to hear that the government is planning to create jobs through ramping up infrastructure spending. But then I got to page 37 (of the pdf version), where I found out that “a major part” of the construction activity undertaken by the government “will be new investment in housing that will improve and expand our social housing stock.” And then, on the next page, I read that

Investments will be made in new and refurbished housing. We will expand supportive housing to combat homelessness and to shelter those with mental illness.

That new housing will be supported by a new integrated, personalized homelessness intervention strategy and a new community safety strategy.

Could it be that now, one year prior to hosting the Winter Olympics, the government had finally come up with a meaningful strategy to address homelessness?

I wasn’t the only one to notice. This promise made the headline of today’s article reporting on BC’s Throne Speech in the Globe: Homelessness takes centre stage in Throne Speech.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I opened my paper copy of the 2009 Budget and Fiscal Update and found out that there was no new money to match the Throne Speech rhetoric. The only dollars attached to homelessness in particular are $30 million in 2008/09 “to acquire and renovate rental properties including 4 single room occupancy (SRO) hotels in Vancouver and 4 hotels/motels throughout British Columbia.” (p. 26).

That’s it? This amount would be woefully inadequate to meet current needs, let alone any potential increases in homelessness that may result from the economic crisis. Not to mention that these money were already announced late last year!

Instead, we are told that “Budget 2009 maintains previous funding commitments to implement new and expanded measures to help break the cycle of homelessness and support low income seniors and families.” Last I checked, previous funding commitments do not count as new investments.

To be fair, there is a line item called “Other spending” in Table 1.16 (Capital Spending) which, we are told, includes BC Housing Management Commission, Provincial Rental Housing Corporation and other service delivery agencies. It amounts to $125 million in 2008/09 and another $110 million over the next three years. Even if this all went to new social housing, and it likely does not, it would hardly solve the problem.

At the same time, the Budget doesn’t seem to include increased operating spending on housing or homelessness and the Ministry of Housing and Social Development is projected to shed 128 FTE positions in each of the next three years.

Without a funding commitment, the Throne Speech’s promise of tackling homelessness amounts to mere pre-election rhetoric. Don’t be fooled!

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