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Federal Homelessness Initiative:  GLBT Partnering and Priority Ranking Necessary

THE local GLBT Community will have to form partnerships and achieve priority ranking in order to be considered for funding from the federal government's $750M homelessness initiative announced yesterday.

Such was the recommendation provided by Labour Minister Claudette Bradshaw's office in an interview with gayottawanow.com.  The Minister, also the federal Coordinator on Homelessness, had met with local GLBT Community leaders in August after having solicited their feedback and displaying concern regarding gay and lesbian people accounting for 25-40% of street youth.

... the need [with gay and lesbian populations] has been clearly demonstrated.
- Minister Bradshaw's Office
"Partnering with the Youth Drop-In Centre downtown [Ottawa] would be an example," said Emily Thomas of the Minister's Office.  "That's where it all started [for us].  That's where we found out about it."  She described how two gay and lesbian youth had impressed the Minister with recounting their experience of coming out to their families and and how it can lead to facing the street due to parental rejection.

Additional partnering with public sector organizations, such as the Regional Government, may be necessary.  "The criteria are that all partners pull together, show the need, identify the gaps and then the program will provide funding," continued Ms. Thomas.  "But the need [with gay and lesbian populations] has been clearly demonstrated," she stated.  "And Regional Governments, in general, are already there."

When pressed for information describing the funding application procedure and criteria for approval, the Minister's staff member seemed unable to provide detail. "The process is not finalized; it will be part of the program.  Priorities have not been nailed down [yet]."  The funds are set for release in 14 weeks, however, and when it was suggested to her that the GLBT organizing may have to include becoming prioritized, she indicated agreement.

The Minister, along with other federal officials, made the announcement in Toronto yesterday where homelessness is generally considered to have reached crisis proportions and Mayor Mel Lastman has repeatedly criticized the federal government for inaction.  "There is a Santa Claus," he stated during the press conference, however, "And her name is Claudette Bradshaw."

Indeed, the $753M Christmas cheque is one of the largest federal government spending announcements in some time.  However, not all parties involved in the homeless issue were satisfied.  "It's a drop in the bucket ... [a] lack of commitment," Josephine Grey of Low Income Families Together told CBC Newsworld in an interview shortly after the announcement.  Activists had been advocating for spending in the amount of 1% of the federal budget, which amounts to some $1.3B.  "We're the only industrialized country without a national housing strategy," Ms. Grey continued, and stated that Canada is in breach of United Nations covenants on the subject.  Other critics argued that the solution to the homeless problem is housing and not money for shelters or more spending on federal-provincial cooperation processes.

I think there's a project here.  The groundwork has been laid [by organizations in the Community] and [it] needs a leader.
- Bruce Bursey
"I'm disappointed that the 25-40% [of homeless youth who are gay and lesbian] was not recognized," Bruce Bursey, who had attended the meeting with the Minister in August, told gayottawanow.com.  "[But] I think there's a project here.  The groundwork has been laid [by organizations in the Community] and [it] needs a leader."  Mr. Bursey, Co-Chair of the Ottawa-Carleton LGBT Health Task Group, indicated that the news was otherwise gratifying due to it demonstrating publicly that the Task Group was achieving something.  "It was great," he continued, describing the August meeting which was also attended by Regional Councilor Alex Munter and representatives from both the Community and the Youth Services Bureau.  "A young lesbian woman was with us; she had rainbow Mohawk hair and multiple body piercings."  Mr. Bursey described the Minister as both honestly concerned and a political animal.

The Initiative, as described in a press release, consists of pure spending as opposed to the federal government developing and administering new programs.  Forty percent of the money will be used for the "Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative," which is described as "flexible funding for local strategies ... [where the federal government] will work with the provinces on development and implementation.  Local collaboration and partnership [is] needed to successfully address homelessness."  Thirty-five percent of the Initiative will represent a cash infusion to an existing Canada Mortgage and Housing fund which helps people upgrade their homes to "minimum health and safety levels."  Twenty-three percent, or $170M, will go to boost the following existing federal programs:  the Urban Aboriginal Strategy, the Shelter Enhancement Initiative, and the Youth Employment Strategy.  The last of these three helps youth "at risk" find work and includes 7 categories, only one of which represents the homeless.  And finally, $10M of government land and buildings will be donated to low-income housing projects, should the provinces or other parties wish to start any.

All spending targets are to be achieved over 3 years.

Ms. Thomas of the Minister's Office concluded with gayottawanow.com by retorting that the lack of program- or population-specific guidelines in the Initiative was due to the Minister believing that the allocation of funds is best decided at the community level.

The government's press release may be viewed at Human Resources Development Canada.