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The Liberal government’s $561 million annual spending plan aimed at reducing homelessness has failed to curb the rising numbers, according to a recent report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Instead, homelessness in Canada has increased by 20% since 2018.

Infrastructure Canada has spent $561 million a year on homelessness programs. This is a 374% increase of $443 million annually compared to the ten previous years.

Almost all the funding to combat homelessness has been put towards the Reaching Home program. Between 2019-20 and 2022-23, the funding for this program helped place 17,849 people in more stable housing annually, funded emergency housing for 5,399 people a year, and provided core prevention services for 31,164 people annually. 

“The best available evidence suggests that homelessness has increased in spite of Reaching Home and, as a result, the program is not on track to meet its targets with respect to reducing homelessness,” the PBO report stated.

The calculations in the study done by the Parliamentary Budget Officer used Point-in-Time counts to determine the number of homeless Canadians. 

Point-in-Time counts offer a one-day snapshot of homelessness in a community, capturing the number of individuals in shelters, unsheltered locations, and transitional housing. These counts also consider those experiencing homelessness who are temporarily staying with others due to a lack of permanent residence.

Based on the latest Point-in-Time count published by Infrastructure Canada, the PBO highlighted that the number of homeless people has increased to 34,270, or by 20%, since 2018. The number of chronically homeless people has increased by 38% since 2018. The number of people living in unsheltered locations has increased by 88% since 2018. 

“If it costs half a billion dollars for [Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] to drive up homelessness. How much would it cost to drive it down?” asked Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre.

Canada’s National Housing Strategy set a target of reducing chronic homelessness by 50% by 2027-28. The Liberals have more recently announced that they will end chronic homelessness by 2030. To accomplish this goal, the PBO said that the feds would have to spend an additional $3.5 billion annually, a 7-fold increase.

“The best available evidence suggests that Reaching Home has not implemented sufficient programming to achieve its target of reducing chronic homelessness by 50%,” said the PBO.

The baseline number for homeless Canadians on a given day was 25,216 in 2018, with 15,130 being chronically homeless. For the Liberals to reach their goals, homelessness would have to be reduced to 12,608 Canadians, with 7,565 being chronically homeless.

Instead, the data shows that homelessness is growing. Infrastructure Canada’s latest Point-in-Time count, which calculated the number of homeless Canadians on a given night between 2020 and 2022, shows that there are 34,270 homeless Canadians on a given day, with 24,301 being chronically homeless. 

The 20% increase suggested by Infrastructure Canada and the Parliamentary Budget Officer is attributed to the 67 communities that took part in both the 2018 and 2020-2022 counts. 72 communities took part in the most recent Point-in-Time count, inflating the number slightly.

Ben Segel-Brown, a senior analyst with the Parliamentary Budget Office told True North that the 2018 baseline number was an undercount as it didn’t include as many communities.

The report noted that these increases could be attributed to service disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer said that federal spending represents a small share of total spending towards fighting homelessness in Canada. An evaluation conducted in 2015-16 showed that for every dollar spent by the federal government, provinces and municipalities spent $13.02, signifying that the federal government only covered 7.1% of the spending addressing homelessness.

When Reaching Home was announced, federal funding planned to cover 14% of total spending.While Point-in-Time calculations provide the amount of Canadians experiencing homelessness on a given day, an average of 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a given year.