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Let’s talk about lasting solutions to homelessness

As part of Vancity Community Investment Bank’s work to finance affordable housing, my team and I have had many conversations with homelessness advocates about what they need to see from our industry to support lasting solutions for people experiencing homelessness.

These conversations have taken on a new urgency since the outbreak of the pandemic and as we move into fall. Combine predictions that where long-term care was ground-zero during the first wave of the virus, homelessness will be the locus for the second, with predictions that we may soon face an unprecedented wave of homelessness due to mass job loss, and we’re looking at a genuine crisis.

The conversations have also taken on a new level of creativity, and the drive to move forward with fixes advocates have long pushed for: namely getting people out of emergency shelters—which should be just that, for emergencies—and into stable, permanent affordable housing.

The interim solutions that have been used over the past few months by the city, like housing people in hotels so that they can self isolate, for me, provided a heartbreaking window into the impact long-term stable housing could have on a person’s life. While ultimately temporary, for many, this was the first time in a long time they had a space of their own, their own bed, their own bathroom, and it made all the difference. Something so simple should be par for the course.

One of the solutions that we’re seeing real energy around, and that the VCIB team is exploring ways to support, is modular housing. These are prefabricated homes that are cost-effective, quick to build and energy efficient. They are often talked about as a way to build laneway housing and add density to our neighbourhoods, but they’re also a clear win in the context of homelessness. I was thrilled to see news from the City of Toronto over the summer that they’re accelerating plans to build 1,000 modular affordable rental homes in combination with new support services, with the first 100 homes expected to be completed this fall.

The strength of this model is that it focuses on moving people quickly from an emergency shelter situation into independent, permanent housing. This a more effective platform from which services can be provided and that gives individuals the stability needed to move forward with their lives. For such an approach to be effective, it must also be used in tandem with rental support where required. While it may sound prohibitively expensive, the economic argument is strong, particularly when modular homes can be used. Using modular homes to help people permanently move out of homelessness is ultimately more cost effective than serving the same population through the emergency shelter system in the long term.

While the onus for these solutions will largely fall upon municipalities, we believe the finance industry can play a supportive role as well. Earlier this year, VCIB provided mortgage re-financing to the Christie Ossington Neighbourhood Center in support of their emergency shelter spaces and transitional housing. In the summer, we financed a supportive housing project in Waterloo, an approach which combines stable housing with support services for people with mental health, substance abuse and other needs. We’re committed to helping shape solutions and we’re looking for partners who feel the same.

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