G&M Opinion - could there be an issue on this or is it again mired in fed-prov infighting? (fwd)

Leslie Schentag (wy497@victoria.tc.ca)
Thu, 25 Mar 1999 17:36:32 -0800 (PST)


  Leslie Schentag
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 25 Mar 1999 14:12:18 -0800 (PST)
From: Geneva Hagen <ws222@victoria.tc.ca>
To: Leslie Schentag <wy497@victoria.tc.ca>
Subject: G&M Opinion - could there be an issue on this or is it again  mired in fed-prov infighting? (fwd)


Governments' efforts for homeless fall short

Thursday, March 25, 1999
MICHAEL VALPY


Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman, when he stands up today in the Sheraton Hotel to
open his so-called summit on homelessness, should have four words for his
provincial and federal guests: "This isn't good enough."

There's a national problem, no more visibly apparent than in Toronto. The
mentally ill are living on the streets. Refugees and immigrants are living
on the streets. Aboriginal people are living on the streets. Mothers and
children are living in the homeless hostels. Affordable housing for the poor
is vanishing.

The Ontario government, depending on your calculations, this week announced
somewhere between $28-million and $50-million in provincial spending on
homelessness and called it $100-million. It can't be called $100-million,
given that $50-million of it comes from Ottawa, which already has
congratulated itself for making the contribution. How stupid do all these
people think we are?

It's also five country miles short of the $250-million-plus that Anne Golden
recommended in her homelessness task force report should come annually from
the province just so the city can tread water.

"Is it a positive initiative?" she asked yesterday. "Yes. Will it solve the
problem? The answer is no." From the ever-diplomatic Dr. Golden, that
equates to a toxic condemnation.

"At least with the province," said a city official, "when they aren't going
to do something, they tell you so. With the feds, it's like dealing with
Jell-O."

On the same day as the Queen's Park announcement, the federal government
announced the creation of a Minister for Homelessness. This, of course,
amounts to being trumped by Queen's Park. Money -- any money -- beats the
creation of a new minister, although, as gestures go, this one is not
entirely futile. With a minister, there's someone specific to yell at.

However, until about midday yesterday, the city government expected
something more to be forthcoming from Ottawa. It was wrong.

The city has reduced by 73 per cent the property tax and cut development
charges on new multiresidential rental construction. The province has
announced that it will waive provincial sales tax on affordable
multiresidential rental construction up to a maximum of $2,000 a unit. This
is a big step by Ontario. Applause all around.

Ottawa could have waived the GST, further reducing construction costs by
between $3,000 and $4,000 a unit. Ottawa does not want to play around with
the pristineness of the GST. Okay. So what else will it do?

Significantly re-enter the social-housing business?

Tend to its constitutional responsibility for aboriginal people?

Between 300 and 400 of Toronto's "visible" homeless -- the 700 to 800 people
who live on the streets -- are aboriginal. Ottawa, which has constitutional
responsibility for aboriginal peoples, more or less says that once they
leave the reserve, they're someone else's problem.

Tend to its constitutional responsibility for immigration?

Ninety per cent of those afflicted by tuberculosis in Toronto are recent
immigrants. One in three hostel users are infected, and half those come from
outside Canada. The city spends $30-million a year housing, feeding and
attending to the health needs of refugees and of immigrants whose
sponsorship programs fail. The province spends $225-million. Ottawa largely
keeps its hands in its pockets.

Of Mike Harris's Ontario government, it can be said it has significantly
repositioned itself on homelessness from where it was a year ago. What that
really says is how outrageous a position from which the government started.

In its announcement this week, it focused on the homeless who are mentally
ill -- a focus that quite inaccurately (in the words of the Toronto Disaster
Relief Committee) "pathologizes the homeless, ignoring . . . the systemic
roots of the problem."

There is nothing about Anne Golden's recommendation that provincial cost
sharing for hostels reflect the actual costs of operating hostels in
Toronto. Nothing about her recommendation that the shelter component of
social assistance be increased in Toronto by 20 per cent. Nothing about her
proposal for a shelter allowance for the working poor.

Tell them, Mayor: Not good enough.

E-mail: mvalpy@globeandmail.ca