Homelessness is one of the most devastating obstacles that an individual can face. The idea of not having a safe place to sleep every night, a roof over your head or a shelter from the unbearable heat and frigid nights that our communities face is something that most of us don’t ever have to think about.
Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy
A home for every Canadian
But for more than 129,000 Canadians, that is a daily reality.
As the Community Entity, defined as a local organizing committee responsible for setting direction in addressing homelessness in their community, United Way Peterborough & District administers the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy funding stream locally, aiming to provide housing and supports for those experiencing homelessness or living rough.
Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy is a community-based program aimed at preventing and reducing homelessness across Canada. This program provides funding to communities to help them address their local homelessness needs. Reaching Home supports the goals of the National Housing Strategy, in particular, to support the most vulnerable Canadians in maintaining safe, stable and affordable housing and to reduce chronic homelessness nationally by 50% by fiscal year 2027 to 2028.
Homelessness has an impact on every community in Canada. It affects individuals, families, women fleeing violence, youth, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities.
By stabilizing the lives of homeless and at-risk individuals, RH contributes to building a stronger and more competitive Canada, to support Canadians in making choices that help them live productive and rewarding lives and to improve Canadians’ quality of life.
As the federal government continues to respond to the unprecedented crisis of COVID-19 with emergency funding, they looked to United Way’s trusted network to disperse funding quickly and effectively.
In 2021, UWP allocated approximately $1 million through the Emergency Winter Response to Homelessness Initiative funded by the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home program, to support people experiencing homelessness in the city and county. Through eleven programs delivered by eight community partners, UWP aimed to address four critical housing and service gaps. The critical areas were identified as a priority for funding through community conversations with agencies, city officials, and advocates who deal directly with the issues of local homelessness and included:
- Outreach particularly outside of 9-5
- Safe after-hours drop-in space for people not using the shelter system by choice or due to bans
- Healthcare outreach and COVID-19 testing for people experiencing homelessness
- Additional permanent housing options for people experiencing homelessness
Consultations with community partners that occurred assessed where to most effectively invest the one-time funding. Some of the funding went to survival gear, culturally appropriate services for Indigenous people, warm drop-in space, and harm reduction. United Way Peterborough & District CEO Jim Russell expressed,
“The goal was to do everything possible to ensure people didn’t die. There are a number of people that choose not to go to shelter or are banned for various reasons, so it was important to have a minimal safety net.”
Russell also stated that housing is a basic human right and that ultimately, shelters are not a permanent solution to homelessness. “A community’s measure can be seen in how it responds to the most vulnerable. I can’t think of a more vulnerable person than someone who is alone, homeless, with nowhere to go while it is minus 30 outside.”
United Way Peterborough & District was able to invest $973, 864 as an emergency response to homelessness during the winter months.
The 11 funded programs collectively achieved the following outcomes:
- Agencies provided outreach to a total of 794 clients (individuals may have accessed services from more than one agency)
- Staff spent 1,018 hours doing mobile outreach
- 17 Indigenous people received culturally appropriate services, such as traditional medicines, access to knowledge keepers, and cultural activities
- 957 support services were provided, including crisis counselling sessions, referrals, transportation, and system navigation
- 1,301 personal items and outdoor necessities were distributed, including hygiene products, food, socks, mitts, sleeping bags, and clothing
- 4,389 wound care and basic needs kits were distributed
- 9,146 harm reduction supplies were distributed
- 92 individuals received wound care services
- 728 individuals received harm reduction services
- 21 people secured housing through funded services, including transitional and permanent housing
- 156 individuals and households were supported to remain housed through short term financial assistance, landlord-tenant advocacy, eviction prevention, and utility payments
- 10 individuals were able to remain housed after CMHA HKPR intervened in hostile unit takeover situations
- Brock Mission built, equipped, and opened their nurse practitioner-led clinic for people experiencing homelessness
No one experiencing homelessness between November 2021 and March 2022 was known by the City of Peterborough to have died due to weather related illnesses or injuries.
There will be a stark difference in the safety and survivability of this upcoming winter for people experiencing homelessness based on the availability of services. The Reaching Home funding that allowed UWP to support these 11 programs in achieving the mentioned outcomes was a one-time-only opportunity, leaving gaps in much needed services this coming winter.
United Way Peterborough & District is committed to supporting the community by working with community members, advocates, researchers, city officials, and people with lived experience to brainstorm solutions that ensure the safety of shelter users and shelter neighbours. These solutions will not be possible without financial support and compassionate decision making from all levels of government and community members.