Ontario’s Auditor General is laying the responsibility for Ontario’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis squarely at the feet of the provincial government.
“Ontario does not have an overarching and co-ordinated provincial strategy to prevent and reduce homelessness,” reads Auditor General of Ontario Bonnie Lysyk’s report on homeless.
The Auditor General’s report finds a lack of tracking, data collection, spending oversight, and strategies as serious problems and calls on the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and House to act immediately to standardize municipal approaches to homelessness, ensure reliable data collection, implement spending oversight, and to set standards for everything from affordable housing waitlist prioritization to emergency shelter operations.
“The Ministry does not evaluate the effectiveness of programs and services provided with provincial funding to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.”
Ontario’s affordable housing crisis has worsened significantly in recent years with the provincial average rental cost of a one-bedroom apartment reaching $1,241 per month in October 2020.
Over 211,000 households are waiting for social housing in Ontario.
“Lack of housing affordability is a roadblock to reducing homelessness.”
The report states “social assistance is the primary source of income for people who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness” but assistance does not provide enough for housing. Ontario Works provides $508 per month in income support, the Ontario Disability Support Program provides $1,169 per month.
The report states municipalities have increased their homeless response budgets by 59% during the past four fiscal years, significantly more than the 32% increase in provincial spending, and 29% increase in federal spending.
Most of this increase is in emergency supports, not long-term solutions.
“The cost of homelessness was examined in a 2014 national study conducted by the Mental Health Commission of Canada across five Canadian cities (Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Moncton). The study found, for the highest needs people, providing housing and required support services to people who are homeless cost on average $19,600 per person, per year. However, this cost was offset by an average reduction of $42,500 in other services not utilized,” reads the report.
Ontario’s municipalities are failing to ensure social housing is provided to those with the greatest need, the report finds. The Province implemented a new “By-Name List” system for waiting lists, “but this new list does not guarantee that the people most in need will receive housing first.”
The report calls on municipalities to collect consolidated information confirming whether people who are homeless are provided needed supports and services.
Auditor General Lysyk states the provincial government needs to set standards and municipalities must inspect homeless shelters. “Some municipalities have not established standards for shelter operations and none are sufficiently performing inspections of shelters to ensure that where standards have been set, they are being met for the health and safety of residents.”
Homelessness increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with encampments appearing in cities across Ontario. Among the contributing factors, the Auditor General finds that many people who were precariously housed (“couch surfing”) were no longer able to find temporary arrangements, and people being released from correctional facilities were provided with housing options.
“As of June 2021, Toronto reported that 40% of individuals referred to shelters from an encampment had no previous shelter use in the city prior to the start of the pandemic, indicating they may be new to homelessness, or to the city,” the report reads.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing states it accepts the finding of the report and will work to implement recommendations.