Ed Fast announces funding for new homeless initiative.

Ed Fast announces funding for new homeless initiative.

Federal funds for homelessness initiative in Abbotsford

Money will go towards an intake and referral system for those who are homeless

Federal funding will support a new intake and referral system for the homeless in Abbotsford.

The city will receive $400,989 in funding over three years from the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS), Abbotsford MP Ed Fast announced Saturday at The Reach.

Mayor Henry Braun told The News the project will include a part-time research assistant, working under the oversight of the city’s homeless co-ordinator, Dena Kae Beno. The work will include examining what resources are available in Abbotsford to assist homeless people, and getting the city’s non-profits and service providers on the same page.

“It means pulling a lot of people who want to help together and heading in the same direction.”

The intake system is anticipated to be a key component in Abbotsford’s housing-first approach to homelessness. The federal government said it will provide a template for other similar-sized cities to do the same.

Housing-first is a concept that focuses on getting homeless people under a roof as soon as possible, providing stability before addressing other potential issues such as mental health or drug use.

Fast said the provincial government has recently provided support for shelter in Abbotsford; the city has taken on a significant role to address the issue, and now the federal government will provide funds.

“It’s representative that all levels of government have a role to play in addressing homelessness.”

The intake and referral system aims to prioritize clients for housing-first intervention, said Fast.

Braun noted there have been some comments that the funding would only be paying for salaries, but said about 76 per cent of the total funding is allocated to specific project costs.

“We’re actually trying to accomplish something here.”

DJ Larkin, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society – a non-profit legal organization which is involved in a constitutional challenge of Abbotsford’s bylaws prohibiting camping in public parks – said she’s happy that housing-first has been acknowledged as a better strategy for addressing homelessness. Her concern is that “it’s just a three-year pilot project – it’s actually a very small amount of money.”

Larkin said it is already known there aren’t enough housing options for people who need support, and at this point the project will “just recycle people through a system that already failed them.

“The (federal) government is coming forward with a really ad-hoc approach to this, and what they need to be doing is coming forward with a national housing strategy that has an actual plan and actual funding.”

She said co-ordinating service providers is a good thing, but Abbotsford has had “years of committees,” and there is already an awareness of a lack of housing options.

But Braun said, “I know people say we are just studying this to death – no, we’re not.”

He said he still hears from service providers who aren’t sure how to assist the homeless, and creating an Abbotsford-specific strategy will help.