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Housing First approach gets federal boost

Housing First, an approach to homelessness that was originally met with skepticism and dismissal by the Yukon government, is now being pushed forward at a federal level.

Housing First, an approach to homelessness that was originally met with skepticism and dismissal by the Yukon government, is now being pushed forward at a federal level.

On Wednesday afternoon, Candice Bergen, minister of state for Social Development, announced the territory will be receiving nearly $1.8 million over five years through the Council of Yukon First Nations to combat homelessness using a Housing First approach.

The money is part of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, a community-based program aimed at preventing and reducing homelessness by providing direct support and funding to 61 designated communities across Canada.

Over the next five years $600 million will be rolled out into the program nationally.

The funding is broken down for each province and territory based on historic levels of funding, merit, population base and regional calculations.

In the past, the Yukon government has balked at the Housing First model.

In 2011, local NGOs had assembled a proposal for a 20-unit Housing First facility, with a proposed site, architectural design and building team in place, but the project never received support and died in August 2011.

Housing First is rooted in the belief that the key to combating homelessness is providing stable housing, with few strings attached.

In other words, homeless alcoholics could live in government-subsidized housing while continuing to drink and not necessarily participating in programs.

The approach has been met with criticism from social conservatives but for those more concerned with the bottom line, research suggests it makes sense.

On April 8, the Mental Health Commission of Canada released a report that found the Housing First strategy effectively reduces homelessness and lead to significant cost savings. For every $10 invested, the government saved an average of $27.72.

The study found that participants in the Housing First model spent an average of 73 per cent of their time in stable housing, compared to 32 per cent for those in more traditional ‘crisis-based’ models.

That means less time spent in emergency rooms, homeless shelters, and other expensive social programs.

Participants were also less likely to get in trouble with the law and those who received both housing and supportive services showed more signs of recovery than those who did not.

The report, called At Home/Chez Soi began in 2008, with a $100 million budget and more than 200,000 Canadians taking part.

“Housing First is a proven approach,” Bergen told the small crowd gathered at the Elijah Smith Building on Wednesday afternoon. “I’m proud to officially announce the implementation of this approach in the Yukon.”

Bergen, who called the model an evidence-based approach, also said that flexibility is needed throughout the country, and while the federal government does suggest a Housing First model, it’s ultimately up to the local entity to decide where the money should go and how it should best be allocated.

“We’re working together with the community to see where that funding should go,” Bergen said.

“We recognize housing is not a federal jurisdictional issue. Each province and each territory makes the decision of where that money is best spent.”

Grand Chief Ruth Massie said the CYFN, acting as the community entity for Whitehorse, is “pleased to be at the forefront of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy.”

Massie said the first step will be collecting the correct data to put a community program in place with properly identified priorities.

“Right now we don’t have all the data,” she said. “We don’t even know the numbers we’re dealing with.”

There are stipulations attached to the funding that funnel a certain percentage into a Housing First strategy.

Starting April 1, 2015, the largest designated communities will be required to invest at least 65 per cent of the funding into Housing First activities.

The following year, communities that receive more than $200,000 in the aboriginal homeless funding stream will be required to invest at least 40 per cent in Housing First.

“CFYN will use the funding generously invested by Canada to help find a solution to address homelessness in our region,” said Massie.

Cabinet spokesperson Dan MacDonald said the government has no comment on the Yukon’s current position regarding Housing First.

Contact Sam Riches at