Children’s Service workers know the story all too well. The chronic shortage of affordable, accessible and safe housing for our youth in care is a serious problem. Homefree is a not-for- profit organization which has been established by CAS of Toronto and the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto to tackle this problem. Homefree’s goal is to build or rehabilitate apartments which qualify for government capital funding, allowing us to provide affordable rental housing for our youth. While the concept is straightforward, the implementation has been anything but. Building in Toronto is a very expensive proposition. One of the biggest problems is acquiring land. CAS of Toronto’s Board of Directors is willing to address this problem by examining the possibility of converting one of our existing property locations to land for rental units. This is a tremendous offer of support to Homefree. The next step is to find a funding source for the building itself. With all of the announcements about federal, provincial and municipal funding to support building additional affordable housing, the average person might believe many more units would have been the result. The facts, however, tell a different story.
In Toronto, using provincial and federal housing funds, only 1,435 “affordable homes” were completed and occupied between 2001 and June 2006, with less than half of those having rent supplements to make them truly affordable to low income tenants. In Toronto, another 2,226 homes had been approved by Toronto Council since 2001, but were still in development as of June 2006. (Only 512 of those units had rent supplements and would be truly affordable to lowest-income-tenants. At the same time, Toronto Housing Connections has a waiting list in excess of 65,000 households needing housing.)
The slow pace of developing housing funded by the Provincial and Federal governments is one reason why homelessness continues as a growing social problem in Toronto. Shelters alleviate immediate problems, but shelters are not homes for people.
There are countless stories depicting the myriad of barriers faced by youth and especially our youth in or transitioning out of care. The good thing is that people are listening and agencies are making decisions to provide greater support. Funding issues continue to present Boards and agencies with serious problems yet despite these shortages and deficits, agencies are standing up for and with our youth to advocate, negotiate and create greater service initiatives to support them.
The research is compelling. The findings show that compared to their peers, youth aging out of care are more likely to:
• Leave school before completing their secondary education
• Become a parent at a young age
• Be dependent n social assistance
• Be unemployed or underemployed
• Be incarcerated/involved in the criminal justice system
• Experience homelessness
• Have mental health problems
• Be at higher risk for substance abuse problems
Our job is to lower the likelihood of these outcomes and implement strategies that will propel our youth on a positive trajectory. Homefree can use your help. Consider volunteering on one of the Committees- Advocacy, Fundraising, Housing Development- or making a donation.