Triage: Homelessness and more

With a long weekend ahead for many of us, and a longer break for the Social Policy Cafe blogger, I’ve included three articles on homelessness, and two other articles (one on planned federal spending, and one on optimal tax rates) for your reading pleasure in my absence.

There are three new reports related to homelessness.  First, the US Interagency Council on Homelessness (former platform for “homelessness czar” Philip Mangano, who continues to work on the issue with a newly created non-profit) has engaged in an extensive consultation on new ideas to end homelessness, posting questions posed at stakeholder focus groups, asking for ideas on a website where interested visitors could vote for their favourites.

These questions focused on homelessness for specific population groups (singles, families with children, veterans,  chronic homelessness), on the role of the local community in ending homelessness, and on how to finish the job of ending chronic homelessness. While the results will not be known until next month, the responses with the votes cast for each are available on a special website.

A second report, prepared by policy researchers at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, costs associated with first-time homelessness for singles and families. As noted in an earlier blog post, assigning costs can be a tricky business, but these folks know what they’re doing, despite limited information. They have focussed on “costs associated with the use of homeless and mainstream service delivery systems by families and individuals experiencing homelessness for the first time in six study
communities,” on a monthly basis.

Although the report provides detailed figures (in more than 250 pages), the researchers concluded with three recommendations for communities:

  • Avoid extensive use of high-cost homeless programs (i.e., transitional housing) for individuals or families who primarily need permanent housing without supports or thosewhose service needs can be met by mainstream systems.
  • Alter the way that homeless assistance systems respond to households that are unable to remain stably housed and face repeated instances of homelessness. Communities could consider models such as Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing.
  • Work with mainstream systems (especially criminal justice, mental health, and substanceabuse systems) to design appropriate discharge planning strategies and ways to identify clients at-risk of homelessness to prevent homelessness.

The third report on homelessness is more local, coming from the Ottawa Alliance to End Homelessness.  In the form of a report card for the year 2009, the publication provides data on shelter usage, showing an increase for youth and families, and a general increase in the length of stays in shelters from 2008 to 2009.

The report is also chock-a-block with other valuable local data, including average rents for various sized apartments for 2000, and then 2008 and 2009, along with the incomes needed to afford them, by CMHC standards, showing the gap between those incomes and incomes for more than 30,000 renter households in Ottawa at the time of the 2006 Census. Finally, the report provides valuable insight into the Hepatitis C infection rate among homeless youth in Ottawa.

For the bonus reports, I point you toward other blogs.  The team at Inside Ottawa at the Globe and Mail has done an analysis of planned spending for each of the next three years, based on reports by 97 departments and financial agencies. The resulting document lists these departments and agencies and associated projections based on greatest reductions in absolute spending and greatest reduction as a percentage of budgets.

Author Bill Curry concludes:

The rankings show that departments poised to lose temporary stimulus money, such as Infrastructure Canada, Industry Canada and the regional development organizations, will see the biggest drop off in spending.

In contrast, the Department of Finance, which is responsible for the ever-growing increases in provincial transfers, tops the list of biggest total increase. Corrections Canada’s planned 27 per cent increase is the largest in terms of percentage.

My last suggestion comes from an economics blog, entitled Worthwhile Canadian Initiatives, co-authored by Stephen Gordon, an economics professor at Laval University and Nick Rowe, an economics professor at Carleton University. (They are also both involved in public policy collaborations.)  The particular entry I am recommending is entitled “The optimal size of government is a partisan issue. The optimal tax mix isn’t,” in which Dr. Gordon provides a clear analysis, with links to persuasive documents, on the importance of choosing to raise revenues by taxing consumption rather than incomes. However, what struck me was the following assertion:

[A] stated preference for a small(er) government sector can only be justified on ideological grounds. A political party may campaign for a larger or smaller public sector, but the justification cannot be that this choice will have a material effect on national income or on economic growth rates.

You may find this article as interesting as I have.

Barring unexpected reliable and fast Internet connections, the Social Policy Cafe will return the 14th of April.  Happy reading!

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