At its Wednesday meeting, Regina city council unanimously approved a new grant program that will provide up to $1 million per year to community-based operators of permanent supportive housing.
The Permanent Supportive Housing Operating Grant follows the establishment of the Regina Plan to End Homelessness in 2019.
“What this does is get the city in the game in terms of providing operational money to advance the Plan to End Homelessness broadly, but specifically the housing first initiative,” Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens said Thursday morning.
Stevens was part of the group which worked to develop the plan.
“Despite the fact that it doesn’t address the entire scope of funding required, getting a municipality into the game, and spending money on actual client support services is actually quite rare in Canada,” he added.
“Municipalities have in some form or another been involved with dealing with poverty, anti-poverty initiatives and housing. This is just dealing with it in a different way.”
City administration originally proposed the grant program be capped at $700,000, which they estimated would support the operation of up to 20 new permanent supportive housing spaces. When the program was reviewed at the community wellness committee, the maximum was increased.
The funding will come from the city’s Social Development Reserve, and will be offset by a reduction from the $2.5 million currently available annually through the Housing Incentives Policy.
Andrews called the decision a “really good start” which needs to be followed with further action.
“We’re really just scratching the surface,” Stevens said, referencing the $63 million cost of the Regina Plan to End Homelessness.
“Our next step is to discuss, with the provincial government, topping up this $1 million to the level required which is just in excess of $2 million.”
As part of the recommendations passed along with the program, Regina Mayor Sandra Masters will write to the provincial government requesting they contribute $1.26 million annually in operational funding for new permanent supportive housing spaces as recommended in the Plan to End Homelessness.
Stevens added that he thinks even more needs to be done to realize the goals of the Regina Plan to End Homelessness, which he called “quite ambitious.”
“I think we need to work with community partners to set up an actual housing first system. We don’t have that here. That involves a separate, arms-length entity apart from the city and existing community-based organizations. The rationale is, all of the money that goes into the housing first program would funnel through a central organization or entity, and everybody would draw from that.”
Stevens pointed out the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society as an example of such an agency.
The administration report on the grant program notes that the Phoenix Residential Society is currently the only Regina-based organization running a housing first program.
The report defines “housing first” as “a recovery-oriented approach to ending homelessness that centers on quickly moving people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing and then providing additional supports and services as needed.”
The report notes that “Evaluation of the Housing First model in Regina has demonstrated cost savings through a reduction in calls for service and interactions with law enforcement, as well as lower rates of hospitalization.”
“The Plan estimates that this results in 58 per cent cost avoidance from these services. Based on this, the City of Regina (City) proposed investment could result in a reduction in public system interaction equivalent to $406,000 in annual costs,” the report says.