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September 22, 2010

Homelessness and Housing Security in Waterloo Region

On October 25, 2010 Ontario voters will elect new municipal governments and school boards. In Waterloo Region, a number of organizations are bringing a focus to the issues that affect the quality of life and inclusion particularly for people with low incomes. As part of that process, I had the chance to talk with Lynn Macaulay, Coordinator of the Homelessness and Housing Umbrella Group (HHUG) in Waterloo Region, about homelessness and housing security in Waterloo Region and about what municipal governments in the Region can and are doing about it.

What is the state of homelessness and housing security in Waterloo Region?
I began by asking Lynn about the state of homelessness in Waterloo Region and about the challenges around community housing programs.






What are municipal governments doing about homelessness and housing security?
One thing about Waterloo Region is that there are two tiers of municipal government. There is the Regional Municipality of Waterloo and there are also three cities (Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo) and four townships (North Dumfries, Wellesley, Wilmot and Woolwich). These governments have different roles and different tools to help achieve housing security and a good quality of life for everyone in Waterloo Region. I aksed Lynn to talk about the things government's in Waterloo Region are currently doing to address homelessnes and housing security.


What can the cities and townships do to improve quality of life for people who are homeless?
The Regional Government has major responsibilities for homelessness and housing security. There are also things that city and township governments can do to improve the quality of life for people who are homeless, near homeless or living with low incomes. I asked Lynn to talk a little more about what the lower tier governments can and are doing to improve the quality of life for people who are homelessnes, at risk of homelessness or living with low incomes.

If we had a million dollars...
Next we turned to some of the key needs for achieving housing security for everyone in Waterloo Region. I asked Lynn to tell me what we could do if we had a million dollars or more. It is not just a hypothetical question. Since the Province is uploading the municipal cost of social assistance benefits (Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program) over the next eight years, the Regional Municipality of Waterloo stands to save about $10 million a year starting in 2011 and up to $20 million a year by 2018, when the Province has fully uploaded the cost of those benefits. That is money the Region has been investing in income security for people at real risk of homelessness. It is worth thinking about how some or all of those savings could be reinvested to help eliminate poverty and homelessness in Waterloo Region. Lynn focused on the needs for non-specific supports to help people maintain their housing. This is what she had to say.


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