Fredericton City Hall Drops the Ball on Housing First
Some people look at something and determine any number of reasons why it can’t be done, rather than focusing on finding a way to get it done.
I’m not sure who to point fingers at here, or for that matter whether it is really necessary, but the way the City of Fredericton has dropped the ball on homelessness is disheartening, and worse may be putting future success at risk.
And it’s such a shame. I, like I expect lots of people, like to take pride in how progressive our city is, and how compassionate.
When Mike O’Brien was elected as mayor we inherited a man with a soft spot for homelessness, and a determination to do something about it. He was in the right place at the right time. The concept of Housing First had become a proven winner in other jurisdictions and the mayor was in fact in the vanguard of promoting it here, and the community embraced it.
When he was elected, our Community Action Group on Homelessness, which was already working hard to establish a Housing First program in Fredericton, welcomed the mayor’s announcement of a TASK Force on homelessness. It was seen as a great step in the right direction.
A committee of people who were not only committed to the cause but proven movers and shakers in their own disciplines, headed up strong committees and the Task Force was off and running. The idea was to identify areas of action that falls within the city’s jurisdiction to promote Housing First that would not cost the city very much, but would help a great deal.
The committee chairs assembled strong teams and a whole lot of volunteer effort later, in June of last year to be precise, the committee presented council with its report, complete with 18 specific recommendations.
The report was accepted and applauded, and the city seemed serious about moving on these recommendations if what was said at the time was anything to go by.
That was June. This is April. Damn near a whole year later by my count, and where is the implementation? Of the 18 recommendations, one, count ‘em – one, has been adopted. So what happened?
I’m not sure, but it would appear that rather than finding ways to make the recommendations reality, the focus was more about finding ways that they couldn’t be implemented. I won’t take the space here to go over all 18 recommendations and the rationale given for each but they are here if you want to review them
Some of the rationale may be sensible, but to have a report for nearly a year, and then to come back and say the city shouldn’t do this because it is something the volunteers should do, or this needs to be studied further, or this should go to such and such a committee, is, not to put too fine a point on it, lame, and not consistent with a city that prides itself on being progressive and getting things done.
But here’s where it really gets problematic. This lack of efficiency could cost us and jeopardize or at the very least delay or reduce, our Housing First program. We are competing for federal funds for Housing First. CMHC rates applicants, and we had the inside track, because of points gained for the level of cooperation among the private sector, non-profits, the province, and the city. We were far ahead of competitors because we were seen as being ahead of the curve in planning, which means less of a risk for federal funds, and so more likely to take the money and make it happen.
By dropping the ball the city has perhaps weakened our odds of capturing federal funds, but more than that, it has placed itself at odds with its own citizens, which have embraced Housing First as something it wants in our city, and has backed that up both with a considerable volunteer effort and by donating almost a million dollars.
Imagine how discouraged they must feel? Nearly a year since it was given the TASK Force report, the city has shown itself not to be a leader in this initiative, but to be the weak link. I don’t know why this is the case, and I certainly didn’t see it coming especially after all the optimism that was floating at the time the TASK Force was announced.
I know Mayor O’Brien’s heart is in the right place on Housing First. I know he believes in it. I know he wants it. What I don’t know is why the city has dropped the ball so badly. One recommendation adopted in 10 months. At this rate the city should be ready to implement the whole report by 2032. Doesn’t sound like the city sees it as much of a priority does it?
Here’s the point. The city council says it supports housing first. But it isn't walking the talk.
Maybe it will help if the citizens of Fredericton spoke up. Why not let your councillor know how you feel on this, in whatever way you feel might work.
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