By Kevin Werner, News Staff
On the eve of funding cuts to Hamilton’s homelessness programs, the Liberal government announced plans to provide money to help the municipality transition through the restructuring period.
The Ministry of Community and Social Services Minister John Milloy said the province is allocating one-time $3.19 million funding to Hamilton out of a $42 million pot to municipalities for one year. The municipalities will be required to provide a report on how the money was spent.
Milloy, who met with Hamiltonofficials about the issue earlier this year, stated municipal officials were concerned about how to keep the homelessness programs funded during the transition year.
Milloy said the funding will come from “reallocating of existing funds.” Provincial officials said earlier the program cuts were due to the pressure of dealing with the province’s $14.4 billion debt problem.
Hamilton officials were left scrambling in September after the provincial government announced in July it was consolidating five existing housing and homelessness programs into the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative. The province was also removing the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit from the Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program.
Provincial officials said the changes will provide better coordination, and “people-centered” integrated services. The province was reducing the funding to municipalities by half to $62 million a year for housing and homelessness initiatives starting Jan. 1, 2013.
The programs help to prevent homelessness by covering the cost of moving, providing for first and last month’s rent, paying for utilities in danger of being turned off, and battling bed bugs.
The programs cost Hamiltonabout $22.7 million in 2012, composed of both city and provincial funding. But city staff stated the changes meant there was going to be a $7.6 million shortfall in 2013. The city also was required to provide the province with a business plan outlining how the new restructured programs will be funded.
Politicians were outraged at the funding cuts. Some councillors didn’t want the city to pick up the extra costs because it would assist the province in its cost-cutting strategy. Other politicians, though, said the programs were vital to Hamilton’s homelessness problems.
Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla says the announcement reveals the Liberals “divide and conquer” strategy for the benefit of the party’s leadership contest, scheduled for later in January.
“This is not a victory, it is pouring salt and vinegar into the wound,” said Merulla, who has railed against the province’s downloading strategy for years.
“The province creates the fire, the municipality puts out the fire. But the same fire will start up next year. This is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, and they are doing it on the backs of the most vulnerable. This is a pyrrhic victory.”
The $3.19 million is now where near enough to cover the city’s social services shortfall of $7.6 million, he said.
“It’s a molecule in the ocean for our downloading problems,” said Merulla. “I don’t understand how anyone can say this is a benefit.”