Improving Ontario’s supportive housing programs 2020 – 2021
What we heard from participants during engagement sessions on how we can improve supportive housing.
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Ontario’s supportive housing system is a complex network of almost 20 individual programs across three provincial ministries:
- the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing
- the Ministry of Health
- the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services
Each of these ministries’ programs has different areas of focus and is largely administered by local service providers, such as:
- service managers
- Ontario Health Regions and Health Service Providers
- Indigenous program administrators
- other local agencies
In the 2019 Ontario Budget, we committed to review our supportive housing programs to identify ways to streamline and improve co-ordination between ministries, so people can get the help they need. This is an important step to ensure that the province provides quality supportive housing, with a focus on the needs and outcomes of clients, which can also help reduce cost pressures on other services.
The three ministries developed a virtual engagement process to seek targeted input and feedback on how the government can improve the supportive housing system.
The engagement asked for input on five key areas within Ontario’s supportive housing system:
- Supply: protect, grow and improve the supply of supportive housing, including physical units as well as the availability of financial assistance and support services.
- Access: better match people to the right housing and supports based on their needs.
- Efficiency: use current resources more efficiently to maximize impact for people.
- People with complex needs: better support people with needs who require support from multiple systems.
- COVID-19: help Ontario’s supportive housing system become more resilient to COVID‑19 or future pandemics.
The virtual engagement occurred between October 2020 and February 2021 and included:
- an online survey that garnered more than 200 responses
- two sessions with provincial sector associations
- eleven regional sessions across Ontario
- thirteen population-specific sessions, including:
- Indigenous partners
- people with disabilities
- justice sector partners
- child welfare and youth organizations
- people who live in supportive housing
The following is a high-level summary of what we heard.
Protect, grow and improve the supply of supportive housing, including physical units as well as the availability of financial assistance and support services.
What we heard
- Increase the supply of all types of supportive housing (for example, dedicated new builds, rent supplements and transitional housing), including culturally appropriate and safe housing and supports for Indigenous people, and give greater consideration to the accessibility of physical design.
- Examine opportunities and impacts on people who are living in other forms of housing (for example, long-term care and long-term emergency shelter users) who could be more appropriately housed in supportive housing.
- Improve access to financing and funding opportunities (including flexible and predictable funding for programs).
- Develop a cross-ministry strategic approach to support the sector with asset management and identify potential opportunities to expand supply through access to land.
- Continue engaging with Indigenous organizations and partners on the development of housing strategies, programs and policies that support Indigenous individuals and are developed with gender and equity lenses in mind.
Better match people to the right housing and supports based on their needs.
What we heard
- Make it easier for people to find the right housing and supports regardless of where or how they access the supportive housing system.
- Improve connections between the supportive housing system and related service systems (for example, hospitals and correctional facilities) when people are discharged and may need supportive housing.
- Improve access to language-specific, culturally appropriate and trauma-informed services.
- Apply a Francophone lens throughout service design, planning and delivery phases to ensure that services are linguistically appropriate.
- Some communities have found that by-name lists of people experiencing homelessness and movement toward co-ordinated access have helped them better link people to the housing and support they need.
- Moving towards more standardized approaches to assessing client needs across different programs and systems would be helpful, but it is important to recognize that different populations may require specialized approaches (for example, culturally appropriate and safe approaches that recognize the unique needs of Indigenous people).
- Improve data collection mechanisms and data sharing across sectors while respecting confidentiality, cultural sensitivities and minimizing impacts on people.
- There’s a need for better awareness at the local level of supportive housing resources available across sectors to assist clients, agencies and other partners.
Use current resources more efficiently to maximize positive impacts on people.
What we heard
- Reduce administrative and reporting burdens within and across programs.
- Create a strategic systems approach to supportive housing, including expanding cross-ministry partnerships to support greater coordination across systems and programs (for example, case management) that serve different populations (for example, seniors, Indigenous communities, people with disabilities and youth).
- Provide greater flexibility within supportive housing programs to address both capital and operating funding needs.
- Capital investments should be supported with stable ongoing operating funding to ensure long-term sustainability of projects.
- Increase capacity to support the diverse needs of people, recognizing that some individuals may require high intensity supports, as well as linguistically and culturally appropriate service delivery models.
Better support people with complex needs who require support from multiple service systems.
What we heard
- Establish/require more effective cross-sector planning at the local level to improve co-ordination for people whose needs span multiple service systems.
- Improve mechanisms to enable client information to be safely and confidentially shared across sectors and providers so that people can receive the full range of services they need.
- There is a need for more integrated care models that holistically respond to people’s complex needs.
- The planning and physical design of supportive housing should respond to the diverse and changing needs of people (for example, physical accessibility of units/buildings and making congregate care settings safer).
- Funding models should support new and innovative approaches to helping people with complex needs.
Help Ontario’s supportive housing system become more resilient to COVID‑19 or future pandemics.
What we heard
- There were initial challenges with accessing personal protective equipment, finding additional qualified staff, and meeting physical distancing and isolation requirements.
- Consider creating local housing emergency co-ordination/situation tables.
- Better-designed physical spaces could reduce the risk of disease transmission.
- Consider transitioning away from congregate settings to self-contained supportive housing units to reduce transmission risks, while recognizing the social benefits of congregate spaces/models.
- Identify ways to maintain good mental health and social interaction in the event of public health emergencies.
Keeping people safe during COVID‑19
COVID-19 has had a significant impact on supportive housing, especially congregate models of supportive housing. Providers have had to adapt the way they deliver services to meet new public health requirements and monitor ongoing impacts of the pandemic.
Since the onset of the pandemic, our government has worked to prevent and address the spread of COVID‑19 in congregate settings through work on the Vulnerable Persons Action Plan. Actions taken have included:
- investing over $1 billion through the Social Services Relief Fund to help municipalities and Indigenous program partners protect the health and safety of vulnerable people in their communities during COVID‑19, including those experiencing and or at risk of homelessness
- sharing infection prevention and control resources related to congregate care settings and providing funding for municipal isolation centres for people awaiting test results or needing to self-isolate
- supporting the proper use and procurement of personal protective equipment and rapid antigen testing kits
- assisting with outbreak management planning, and monitoring outbreaks and health and safety practices in congregate settings
The input we received through these engagement sessions highlights that improving supportive housing in Ontario is a complex, long-term initiative that will require dedicated support and engagement from:
- all ministries involved with supportive housing
- municipal governments
- Ontario Health and its regions
- community agencies
- Indigenous partners
However, there are realizable and achievable actions that can be taken and milestones that can be accomplished in the short term that will make concrete improvements for people who rely on the supportive housing system.
The ministries of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Health, and Children, Community and Social Services are exploring opportunities to work together to:
- better co-ordinate supportive housing intake processes
- find ways to make the system work better and more efficiently for those who work and live in supportive housing
- improve how people access the system so that they get the right housing and supports, in the environment that is right for them
Specifically, ministries are working together to make progress on the following initiatives:
- Develop a common pre-screening approach that can be utilized across sectors to navigate people towards the correct housing and supports across the housing, health and community services sectors more quickly and appropriately.
- Establish local integrated supportive housing planning requirements to coordinate local service planning and delivery of supportive housing across the housing, health and community services sectors. This would support improved cross-sector collaboration and planning, and better respond to clients’ complex needs.
- Conduct a cost avoidance review of supportive housing to better understand how supportive housing can avoid unnecessary use of high-cost provincial systems by helping people achieve housing stability.
Moving forward, ministries will continue to engage a variety of stakeholders and experts across sectors during the development and implementation of this work.
Building on current work, and the suggestions and input received through this engagement, the three ministries will continue to work together to identify potential areas for future, longer term action across the supportive housing system, so that people can get the help they need, where they need it, in a safe and healthy way.
Thank you to the hundreds of people and the many organizations who provided their invaluable feedback, and shared first-hand experiences and recommendations for how to work together and improve supportive housing.