Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Groups say federal program to combat homelessness is in limbo

In the 1993 film Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character wakes up to relive the same horrible day over and over and over again. Across the province advocates for the homeless are identifying with the film’s plot line as they wait for the federal government to announce the guidelines and budget for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) funding.
The community-based program to combat homelessness has existed since the beginning of this millennium. In Quebec, $18 million is spent annually throughout the province, roughly $750,000 of that is used in Sherbrooke.
Several local organizations, such as Chaudronnée, la Source-Soleil and the Maison Jeunes-Est, benefit from the program to continue long-term projects and offer services.
The funding has also helped develop new responses to urgent needs, primarily when it comes to transitional and supportive housing.
But in 196 days the funding ends prompting agencies to urge the federal government to act quickly.
Table de concertation sur l’itinérance à Sherbrooke along with its partners in the group Réseau SOLIDARITÉ itinérance du Québec (RSIQ), a network of services for the homeless, is reminding the federal government to not neglect their commitment to prevent and reduce homelessness.
“The services for our homelessness community have proven effective for people and are recognized by others in our milieu. It is deplorable that the partners must continually mobilize to demand the resources they need to maintain these services especially since a pan-Canadian assessment found the HPS program to be very successful,” said Marie-Claude Vézina, RSIQ president and spokesperson for the Table itinérance à Sherbrooke, which alone helps between 1,000 and 1,300 people annually.
Across the province last week RSIQ members and partners gathered outside the offices of the Secretariat of partnerships to fight against homelessness in Montreal and Gatineau and held rallies in various regions to ask the federal government not to leave its most needy citizens out in the cold.
The current budget for the HPS in Quebec is the same as in 2001 despite the increasing needs and rising costs of both intervention and real estate. Rather than ask community organizations to maintain the same level of service with a restrictive budget the RSIQ is requesting the HPS annual budget to be increased to $50 million in Quebec for the 2011 to 2014 period.
Members of the RSIQ are apprehensive that the program’s guidelines may be amended prompting them to ask that it continue to operate under general-interest financing allowing it the flexibility to enable a diverse amount of projects geared to the needs of individual communities.
Lastly the groups are requesting that the federal government not drag its feet any longer and implement the 2011-2014 HPS quickly to avoid disruption of services before March 31, 2011.

By Corrinna Pole, The Record, The voice of the eastern Townships.

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