December 5, 2013

To:
Hon. Kathleen Wynne, MPP, Premier of Ontario
Hon. Linda Jeffrey, MPP, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Hon. Teresa Piruzza, MPP, Minister Responsible for Poverty Reduction
Hon. Ted McMeekin, MPP, Minister of Community and Social Services

Dear Premier Wynne, Minister Jeffrey, Minister Piruzza, and Minister McMeekin,

We are writing on behalf of Health Providers Against Poverty to urge you to respond immediately to the housing and homelessness crisis in Ontario.

The Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) previously provided support to people on social assistance by covering unexpected housing or housing-related costs that would otherwise be unaffordable. Typical circumstances in which people accessed the CSUMB included transition support from hospital for those without secure housing, elimination of health risks such as bedbugs or mould, and payment of first and last month rent deposits to secure adequate housing, where this was otherwise not possible. When the government announced termination of this benefit in December 2012, only half of the previously designated funds were to be transferred to the municipalities. Province-wide mobilization of community and health organizations concerned about these cuts resulted in government creation of a one-time $42 million “transition fund” to help municipalities deal with the loss of the CSUMB and move to the municipality-based homelessness prevention through the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI). This one-time injection of funds runs out in March 2014.

The transition to CHPI funding presented many challenges for municipalities and was complicated by a new cap on discretionary benefits for individuals on social assistance. There is now greater variability in eligibility criteria for housing-related funding across the province. Overall, loss of the CSUMB has meant that many low income Ontarians cannot access direct funding for housing-related needs. Evidence shows us that this will undoubtedly threaten the health of these individuals. The cost savings of eliminating the CSUMB will result in greater costs elsewhere, particularly in our health care system.

Homelessness negatively impacts health and is associated with a greatly increased risk of death. Among men using shelters for the homeless in Toronto, mortality rates were found to be 8.3 times higher than the mean for 18–24 year olds, 3.7 times higher than the mean for 25–44 year olds and 2.3 times higher than the mean for 45–64 year olds. It is tragic and unacceptable that there are over 700 names on Toronto’s homeless memorial.

If the moral imperative alone does not compel the government to take immediate action to reduce homelessness, the high costs to health care should. Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital found that hospital admissions for homeless patients cost over $2,500 more than admissions for the average housed patient.

As health care providers, we strongly support the call to make permanent the $42 million in “transition funding” for critically important housing and homelessness funds administered by municipalities under the CHPI, as articulated by a number of organizations in this letter.

While the $42 million will not replace the CSUMB, it will alleviate some of the hardship brought on by the government’s elimination of this important security net for low-income individuals facing housing crises.

Regards,

Katie Dorman, MD
James Deutsch, MD
Andrea Perry, OT