Affordable Housing and Homelessness Prevention

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Wait Times and Availability of Affordable and Subsidized Housing

As of September 2017, there were 4,923 households on the Centralized Waiting List in Niagara. This represents 10,2017 people waiting for Rent-Geared-to-Income (RGI) housing across Niagara.

Source: Niagara Regional Housing ‘Affordable Housing and Seniors’ presentation, Thorold, October 25, 2017
Retrieved from: http://www.niagaraknowledgeexchange.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/11/Presentation-to-Thorold-seniors-Oct-25-pdf.pdf

2017 Housing Wait Times:  Below are the estimated wait times (in years) for Housing in Niagara:
 No units of this size available in this community

2017 Housing Wait Times Niagara

Source: Niagara Regional Housing.
Retrieved from:
http://www.nrh.ca/applicants/Wait-Times-Chart.shtml

Core Housing Need

A household is considered to be in core housing need if any one of the following three conditions is met:

  • Affordability: more than 30 per cent of income is spent on housing
  • Suitability: housing is too small for the size of the household
  • Adequacy: housing is in need of major repair

“Statistics Canada worked with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to produce CMHC’s core housing need indicator for the 2016 census. A household in core housing need is one whose dwelling is considered unsuitable inadequate or unaffordable and whose income levels are such that they could not afford alternative suitable and adequate housing in their community.”

Figure 1, provided by Statistics Canada, presents the core housing need prevalence rates for all census metropolitan areas (CMAs) in Canada, including the St. Catharines-Niagara CMA (13.9%). This is higher than the rate for Canada (12.7%)

Core housing need rate canada metropolitan areas

Source:  Statistics Canada
Retrieved from:  http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/chn-biml/index-eng.cfm

Statistics Canada provides the following notes on the core housing need concept: “Core housing need was derived in two stages. The first identified whether the household was living in a dwelling considered unsuitable, inadequate or unaffordable. Housing suitability identified whether the dwelling had enough bedrooms according to its size and composition. Housing adequacy was assessed based on the Dwelling condition not being reported in need of major repairs. A shelter-cost-to-income ratio of less than 30% was required to deem the housing affordable. The second stage established whether the household could be expected to have affordable access to suitable and adequate alternative housing by comparing the household’s total income to an income threshold based on local housing costs. Only those households who could not afford alternative housing would be considered in core housing need”.

Niagara Housing Stats

Source:  Statistics Canada
Retrieved from:  http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/chn-biml/index-eng.cfm

Homelessness and Use of Shelters

In a 2015 blog post, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub at York University provided a summary of the relationship between health and homelessness. The blog post cites 2011 research that shows 85% of people experiencing homelessness reported having a chronic health condition.  The post summarizes a list of the “top 10 health issues homeless people face”:

  1. Mortality and unintentional injuries (bruises, cuts, burns, etc.)
  2. Musculoskeletal disorders and chronic pain
  3. Hunger and nutrition
  4. Skin & foot problems
  5. Infectious diseases
  6. Dental problems
  7. Respiratory illness
  8. Chronic diseases and disorders
  9. Sexual & reproductive care
  10. Mental health issues

Source:  Homeless Hub
Retrieved From: http://homelesshub.ca/blog/what-are-top-10-health-issues-homeless-people-face

The HEART project articulates the views of homeless individuals in Niagara, regarding the significant healthcare challenges they face around: access and discharge from hospitals; adequate and comprehensive psychiatric and mental health services across service providers; and availability and continuity of care from family doctors.

Source:  HEART (Health and Equity through Advocacy, Research and Theatre) research program, McMaster University DeGroote School of Medicine Niagara Campus students, 2017.
Retrieved from:  http://www.niagaraknowledgeexchange.com/community-blog/health-policy-by-the-homeless-empowering-niagaras-most-marginalized-to-become-policymakers-through-research-and-theatre/

The above information is also included in the Health and Wellness Sector of this report.

Niagara Region Community Services (NRCS) provides information about Hostels and Homelessness Prevention services and programs across Niagara.  NRCS manages the administration of homelessness prevention programs in the region using funding from the provincial and federal governments. They also contract with agencies for shelter placement and hostel provision.

A total of 22 contracted agencies located across 8 local areas of Niagara are listed on the Niagara Region website:

Municipality Organizations contracted by Niagara Region Social Services for homelessness prevention programs, shelter placement or hostel provision
Fort Erie – Casa El Norte
– Matthew House
Grimsby – Grimsby Affordable Housing Partnership
– Grimsby Benevolent Fund
Lincoln – Community Care of West Niagara
Niagara Falls – Nightlight Youth Shelter
– Project Share
– Women’s Place of South Niagara Inc.
Port Colborne Port Cares
St. Catharines Bethlehem Projects of Niagara
Canadian Mental Health Association Niagara Branch
Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold
Gillian’s Place
Salvation Army Booth Centre
Southridge Shelter
St. Catharines YWCA
Start Me Up Niagara
The Raft
Welland Open Doors Concepts Inc. (Canal View Homes)
The HOPE Centre
Women’s Place of South Niagara Inc.
West Lincoln West Lincoln Community Care

Source: Niagara Region Social Services
Retrieved from: https://www.niagararegion.ca/social-services/hostels-homelessness-prevention.aspx

The following table is the Hostels dataset from the Niagara Open Data Portal. There are 8 records in the dataset.

ID HOSTELS ADDRESS Municipality LONGITUDE LATITUDE
1 Casa El Norte 281 Central Avenue Fort Erie -78.9194 42.91773
2 Mathew House 183 Central Avenue Fort Erie -78.9192 42.91379
3 Nightlight 5519 Ontario Avenue Niagara Falls -79.0695 43.09566
8 YWCA – Niagara Falls 6135 Culp Street Niagara Falls -79.0962 43.08638
7 The RAFT 17 Centre Street St. Catharines -79.2424 43.16143
9 YWCA – St. Catharines 183 King Street St. Catharines -79.2439 43.16152
5 Southridge Church 201 Glenridge Avenue St. Catharines -79.2382 43.14312
4 Salvation Army Booth Centre 184 Church Street St. Catharines -79.2377 43.16363

Source: Niagara Region. (2016). Hostels [Data file].
Retrieved from https://niagaraopendata.ca/dataset/hostels

In April 2016, Niagara completed its first ever point-in-time count of homeless individuals. Over a 24-hour period, more than 140 volunteers counted and surveyed people staying in shelters, short-term housing and sleeping rough (without shelter), providing a “snap-shot” of homelessness in Niagara. The Count will help us better understand who is homeless, what their needs are, and provide baseline data so we can measure our progress towards ending homelessness. 424 individuals were counted in 13 shelters.

Source: Niagara Region Social Services
Retrieved from: http://niagararegion.ca/social-services/action-plan/home-for-all-task-force.aspx

Out of the Cold – St. Catharines:

In the coldest months, people living on a limited income may be faced with making a choice between buying food and paying for utilities. Having access to Out of the Cold is one way to help individuals and families stay housed. When people are able to get a hot meal, they can direct their funds to paying for utilities and other expenses, and thus maintain their housing.

For individuals without a home, Out of the Cold provides a hot meal plus a safe warm bed. It also provides a connection point to other community services.  The dinners are well-attended, with more than 30,000 served each year, between November and March.  

Out of the Cold St Catharines began in 1995. After hearing about Out of the Cold in Toronto and being very concerned about increased poverty and homelessness, people at Queen Street Baptist Church in St. Catharines started an Out of the Cold pilot project, operating one night a week. Soon other churches gathered volunteers and opened their doors, making Out of the Cold services available every night from November 1- March 31. Today, Out of the Cold is supported by churches, community organizations and individuals who are concerned about poverty and homelessness.  

The following tables and graphs are based on data provided by Start Me Up Niagara. Note: demographic data pertains only to individuals staying overnight.   

Number of individual overnight stays by month: Out of the Cold, St. Catharines, 2014 – 2016
Month and year Number of Individuals Number of Overnight Stays
November 2014 111 590
December 2014 106 701
January 2015 115 891
February 2015 97 747
March 2015 89 770
November 2015 99 499
December 2015 111 735
January 2016 140 882
February 2016 114 794

 

March 2016 89 710

 

Out of the Cold overnight stays

Income Source of individuals accessing Out of the Cold

Age Range of Individuals Accessing Out of the Cold

Gender of individuals accessing Out of the Cold

Individuals Accessing Out of the Cold, St. Catharines, for overnight stay – Aboriginal and Military 2014 – 2015
Demographic Number of Individuals
Aboriginal 10
Military 5

 

Source: Start Me Up Niagara
Retrieved From: http://startmeupniagara.ca/out-of-the-cold-schedule/

The RAFT’s Youth Reconnect Initiative is recognized as a Canadian best practice model for integrated youth programs in rural communities.  Evaluation of impact on the lives of the 563 individuals aged 16 to 19 served between 2008 and 2014 shows that upon discharge 88% found stabilized housing or were prevented from experiencing housing breakdown, and 70% were attending education. This resulted in estimated savings of $115,920 to the shelter system. Public and private sector savings through secondary school dropout prevention are estimated at $4,718,688.

A 2017 plan to end youth homelessness in St. John, New Brunswick cites Youth Reconnect as a ‘Promising Practice’ model.

Source:  The RAFT (Niagara Resource for Youth) and Saint John Human Development Council
Retrieved from: http://307.cmsintelligence.com/site/youth-reconnect and http://awayhome.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Plan-To-End-Youth-Homelessness-Final-January2017.pdf

In 2017, the RAFT partnered with the District School Board of Niagara to pilot the Upstream project, to prevent youth homelessness by reaching at-risk youth in school.  Upstream is based on a successful Australian model that proves at-risk youth can be turned around if they are caught in time and referred to appropriate supports and services.

Source:  The RAFT (Niagara Resource for Youth)
Retrieved from:  http://www.theraft.ca/site/home

In 2016, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness released Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey, the first pan-Canadian study of young people who experience homelessness. They surveyed 1,103 individuals from 47 different communities across 10 provinces and territories. Four key findings from this study help to advance our understanding about how youth become homeless:

  1. Many homeless youth became homeless before they were 16, and youth who leave home at a younger age experience greater adversity on the streets.
  2. Homeless youth often have multiple episodes of homelessness and experience housing instability for years prior to their current experience of homelessness.
  3. A high percentage of homeless youth experienced childhood abuse and involvement with child protection services, often beginning at a very young age.
  4. Homeless youth have high drop out rates and experience numerous challenges in school, including bullying and difficulties related to learning disabilities.

This study revealed seven key ways in which these youth are suffering:

  1. Ongoing housing instability – over half stayed in more location the previous month, and 10.2% stayed in more than five places.
  2. High levels of chronicity – almost one third were chronically homeless (continually homeless for more than one year), and 21.8% were episodically homeless (multiple experiences of homelessness over the past 3 years).
  3. Nutritional vulnerability – almost half had access to good quality food once a week or less, one third report having little or no energy on a day-to-day basis.
  4. Declining mental health – 85.4% reported high symptoms of distress, 42% reported at least one suicide attempt, 35.2% had at least one drug overdose requiring hospitalization.
  5. Low school participation – drop out rate among homeless youth is 53.2%, compared to the national rate of less than 9%. 73.9% of those who dropped out would like to return to school.
  6. Unemployment – 75.7% were unemployed, compared to a national youth unemployment rate of 13.3%.
  7. Criminal victimization – 68.7% had been victims of a crime, compared to 19% of the Canadian public. For violent crimes, the rate among homeless youth was 59.6% compared to the national rate of 7.6%. Sexual assault was especially prevalent among young women and transgender/gender non-binary youth.

The researchers made recommendations for the Government of Canada, provincial and territorial governments, and for communities and municipalities. The recommendations for communities and municipalities were:

  1. All communities and/or municipalities should plan and implement strategies to prevent and end youth homelessness.
  2. Communities should focus on prevention and strategies to move young people out of homelessness instead of expanding emergency services.
  3. Community strategies should focus on systems integration to facilitate smooth transitions from homelessness and ensure no young person slips through the cracks.
  4. Community strategies should necessarily ensure that local and program responses take account the needs of priority populations.
  5. Enable all young people who experience homelessness to reengage with education and training.
  6. Make ‘family reconnect’ supports available to all young people who come in contact with the system.
  7. Housing First for Youth should be broadly applied as both a community philosophy and as a program intervention.
  8. In working with young people, communities should focus not on just risks, but assets and resilience.
  9. Mental health and addictions needs of young people should be prioritized in community planning and service delivery.
  10. Foster meaningful youth engagement in all policy development, planning, and implementation processes.

Source: “Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey”. The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. 2016.
Retrieved from: http://homelesshub.ca/YouthWithoutHome

Housing Initiatives

A Home for All:
A Home for All is the vision of the Niagara Region 10-year Housing and Homelessness Action Plan (HHAP). The HHAP was launched in 2013 as part of a province wide effort to address the very complex issue of housing and homelessness. The strategy outlined in this plan addresses the following four goals:

  1. House people who do not have a home
  2. Help people find and retain a home
  3. Increase opportunities and options across the housing continuum
  4. Build capacity & improve effectiveness of the housing system

A Home for All identifies five key areas to focus on as a community:

  1. Housing First
    • Goal: Moving people who are chronically and episodically homeless as fast as possible from the street or emergency shelters into permanent housing with supports.
    • Current status: Focus on developing a model of service delivery for Niagara that will better serve clients with repeated instances of homelessness.
    • Task force member: Elisabeth Zimmerman, Executive Director, YWCA Niagara
  2. Prevention
    • Goal: Reduce the prevalence and incidence of homelessness.
    • Current status: By initiating proven strategies, this work will have a long-term impact of reducing homelessness keeping at-risk youth and adults housed. A comprehensive youth strategy will be developed as part of the work.
    • Task force member: Michael Lethby, Executive Director, The RAFT
  3. Service Hubs
    • Goal: Provide clients with a centrally located destination that offers more of the services they need all under one roof.
    • Current status: Focus on developing a model of service delivery for Niagara that will better serve clients with repeated instances of homelessness.
    • Task force member: Mark Carl, Executive Director, The Hope Centre
  4. Housing Affordability
    • Includes: Housing provided by the private, public and not-for-profit sectors, and availability and quality of housing.
    • Current status: Researching local, national and global innovations in housing affordability and developing a forum to engage a broader cross-section of people in Niagara to collaborate to introduce innovations in Niagara.
    • Task force members: Lori Beech, Executive Director, Bethlehem Housing
  5. No Wrong Door
    • Includes: A no wrong door approach provides individuals with appropriate service regardless of where they enter the system of care. All services in a no wrong door approach respond to the individual’s stated and assessed needs through direct service or linkage to appropriate programs. A no wrong door approach does not send a person from one agency to another.
    • Current status: This group is researching options and best practices for developing a common intake/assessment tool, an integrated service network and a unified outcome measurement tool, with a goal of streamlining intake and service delivery for clients across Niagara.
    • Task force member: Mike Taylor, Executive Director, Youth Resources Niagara.

Source:  Niagara Region Community Services
Retrieved From:  http://www.niagaraknowledgeexchange.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/07/A-Home-for-All-Community-Update-2017.pdf

Homeward Bound Program in Niagara:
The Indigenous Homeward Bound program being developed at both the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre and Niagara Regional Native Centre in Niagara-on-the-Lake is a 4-year holistic job-readiness program that integrates key supports such as safe, affordable housing, childcare, skills training and college education to help under-housed and homeless single mothers change their lives.

Developed by WoodGreen Community Services in Toronto, the Homeward Bound model demonstrates an 80% participant success rate and a $4.00 return to society for every dollar invested in the program. In 2015-2016, the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres and WoodGreen conducted a community-based feasibility study to design a Homeward Bound model to meet the needs of Indigenous communities.

With support from Ontario’s Local Poverty Reduction Fund, through the Ontario Trillium Foundation, WoodGreen is collaborating with 6 Indigenous Friendship Centres across Ontario, including the 2 Centres in Niagara, to adapt Homeward Bound for the urban Indigenous context. Participating Friendship Centres include Dryden Native Friendship Centre, Timmins Native Friendship Centre, Niagara Regional Native Centre, Hamilton Regional Indian Centre, N’Amerind (London) Friendship Centre, and the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre.

Source:  WoodGreen Community Services, Toronto.
Retrieved From: http://www.woodgreenannualreport.org/2015-16/stories/poverty-funding/  

Habitat for Humanity Niagara:
Habitat for Humanity brings the community, volunteers and the private sector together to help build strength, stability and independence through affordable homeownership. Habitat bridges the gap that exists in the housing continuum between social and rental housing; and market ownership, by providing an opportunity for families that would otherwise have no chance at homeownership. Habitat homeowners pay for their homes, through an affordable mortgage that is never more than 30 percent of their income.  Habitat for Humanity Niagara reports that every Habitat home built creates a social return on investment of $175,000 for the local community.

Source: Habitat for Humanity Niagara
Retrieved from:  http://www.habitatniagara.ca/

Survivors of Domestic Violence Portable Housing Benefit:
In 2016, Niagara was one of 22 communities selected by the Ontario Ministry of Housing to receive funding over 2 years, as part of the Survivors of Domestic Violence Portable Housing Benefit Pilot program, in support of the provincial goal of ending chronic homelessness in 10 years. The $652,476 of federal-provincial funding is being allocated by Niagara Regional Housing to assist 50 qualified Special Priority status households (victims of violence). These households are being offered a portable rent benefit with which they can seek out accommodation that best meets their household needs in the private sector.   A portable housing benefit is a subsidy provided to a low-income household to help with housing costs. The subsidy gives a household the freedom to choose where to live, since it is not tied to a specific unit like most rent-geared-to-income social housing.

Source: Ontario Ministry of Housing, September, 2016 and Niagara Regional Housing, July, 2016.
Retrieved from: https://news.ontario.ca/mho/en/2016/09/communities-participating-in-new-portable-housing-benefit-pilot-for-survivors-of-domestic-violence.html and https://www.niagararegion.ca/social-services/action-plan/home-for-all-task-force.aspx

Funds Being Invested in Affordable Housing in Niagara:
Niagara Region Social Services reports that in 2017, one hundred new Housing First subsidies with case management supports were established across the region.  The Region awarded continued and new funding to 50 homelessness programs and supports across Niagara. As well, the Hope Centre in Welland continued to develop as a hub of multiple services and support including homelessness prevention, shelter, mental health and addictions supports and a food bank.

In 2016 and 2017, Niagara Regional Housing (NRH) received over $23 million in federal-provincial funding to support initiatives such as social housing energy efficiency retrofits, construction of 125 new affordable housing units in Thorold, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines, and support for low income homeowners with renovations to improve the health and safety of their homes. This includes:

  • In 2016, Niagara Regional Housing (NRH) received more than $6 million from the federal- provincial Social Housing Improvement Program (SHIP) for social housing repairs and energy retrofits and $268,000 from the provincial Social Housing Electricity Efficiency Program (SHEEP) to assist three social housing providers with energy efficiency retrofits.
  • A total of $17 million in federal-provincial funding was announced for affordable housing programs in Niagara through Niagara Regional Housing (NRH) in 2017.  These funds will:
  • Increase the supply of affordable housing through the construction of 125 new units in Thorold, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines
  • Assist low to moderate income rental households to purchase their first home through Welcome Home Niagara homeownership loans
  • Support low to moderate income homeowners with renovations to improve the health and safety of their homes

In October, 2017, the provincial government announced $5.4 million over 3 years of new ‘Home for Good’ funding, to bring 23 new and 40 community-based Supportive Housing units to Niagara.

Source:  Niagara Region and Niagara Regional Housing, correspondence and media releases.

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