The topic of affordable housing, or low-barrier housing, is discussed year after year, election after
election, at all levels of government. Most citizens, even some who have been elected to serve, don’t really have a full appreciation for the problem because it’s been largely invisible... until now.
The emergence of the Tent City has been called the "canary in the coal mine". If by that you mean that there is a lot of volatile gas around the issue, sure. But let’s just say that the Tent City has illuminated a serious problem in Peterborough, and many other communities across the country.
Much has been written about why the Tent City was triggered, who is living there, the various agendas
involved, and what the solutions are, but let’s just establish that it’s an incredibly deep and complex situation involving the lack of affordable housing (and the harsh reality of what that actually means), mental health, addictions, homelessness, red tape/rules and regulations, and more. And not one of us would want to be in one of those tents.
How a society treats its most vulnerable is a measure of that society. As much as one could argue that our social safety net is better than many other countries, it’s also true that over the years mental health services have been seriously eroded, affordable housing has become much less affordable and much more difficult to build, opioid addiction is now a full-on crisis, the shelter system is stressed and Governments with less and less money are having to take care of more and more people.
So, what now?
Like the problems, the solutions are multi-layered and complex. Our elected leaders hosted a round table discussion last week which included some education on the issues from City and County front-line staff, and agencies such as Built for Zero (bfzcanada.ca), which is seeing a growing number of communities achieving effectively zero homelessness. We were struck by the approach of staff which is based on a “by-name” system. Knowing the people affected by name and dealing with their issues and circumstances one by one is truly front-line work, eating the elephant one bite at a time. As a result, the Tent City is slowly shrinking as caseworkers work closely with individuals.
The round table established a ten-point plan which included short-, medium- and long-term goals. The list has been well publicized, but it includes the immediate goal of finding a new location for the Warming Room, working to create new applications to the National Housing Strategy in order to trigger new affordable housing development, and more.
The Chamber of Commerce network is currently working on a number of measures, including:
The “Housing First” approach aims to move homeless people rapidly from shelters and the streets into stable housing, while providing them with the necessary support for underlying mental health or
additional issues to stabilize their lives.
The second recommendation from the “Addressing Homelessness in Canada” resolution was to
coordinate efforts with the provinces/territories and municipalities to stimulate new affordable housing construction. This is very similar to the request in 2019 of aligning federal and municipal policies.
Sometimes it takes a crisis in order for things to get done. This is hopefully one of those times. The people who have populated Tent City have been judged by many people, but perhaps they’ll be the trigger to realizing a sustainable solution.
The Ten-Point Plan for a Rapid Response to Homelessness and Housing includes the following:
Ten-Point Plan for a Rapid Response to Homelessness and Housing
For Immediate Release
July 23, 2019
Therrien and Monsef announce 10-point plan for a Rapid Response to Homelessness and Housing
As a result of today’s meeting at the Mount Community Centre, a 10-Point Plan for a Rapid Response to Homelessness and Housing has been established. The plan consists of the following:
1. Immediately implement recommendations arising from the Rapid Response to Homelessness and Housing Meeting on July 23 to provide more supports and services to encourage those living rough to move indoors.
2. Mayor will strike a Rapid Shelter Task Force to determine a Plan A and Plan B for more permanent, low-barrier shelter for the most vulnerable in our community, with a report due to Council in 60 days.
3. Willing government partners will help the Task Force by providing staff to form a Secretariat.
4. Willing government partners will help the Task Force by suggesting community experts to form the membership of the Task Force.
5. The voices of those living rough in our community, as well as community experts and advocates, will be heard through the development of the Task Force report and the future creation of low-barrier shelter through multiple avenues, including representation on the Task Force and consultations.
6. City of Peterborough will continue to develop its Official Plan to ensure that creative solutions for housing are available to the community, such as allowing for tiny homes through zoning and by-law amendments, and will look to create an inventory of land that could be made available for affordable housing development.
7. Willing government partners will continue to work together to support a community response to the opioid crisis and mental health needs, including by supporting a Consumption and Treatment Site.
8. A public summit will be held on August 13 to ensure the community can help inform the path forward.
9. Willing government partners will work with community and service providers, as well as willing local developers, over the next 60 days to create new applications to the National Housing Strategy that meet the housing needs of the City and County of Peterborough and that move to build 2,000 units over the next two years.
10. Regular information updates about progress on this plan will be delivered to internal partners and to the community at large.