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Ongoing COVID-19 raises spectre of homelessness worsening

More help will depend on second wave’s severity, says Trudeau cabinet’s Ahmed Hussen

While maintaining that the severity of a second wave of COVID-19 remains to be seen, Families, Children and Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen says Ottawa is prepared to provide additional help for the homeless should the pandemic worsen.

Still, he insists the federal government has already been doing everything possible to help Canadians who have no permanent place of residence.

Seen here with fellow federal cabinet minister Mélanie Joly during a meeting in Montreal in 2019, Families, Children and Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen says Ottawa is prepared to provide more help for the homeless should the COVID-19 situation require it. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst)

In Montreal last week, news reports drew attention to the fact that in certain areas of the city, such as Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, large encampments of homeless are springing up, as fallout from the pandemic takes a toll on the country’s economy.

A worsening crisis

Meanwhile in the U.S., homelessness – driven by unemployment generated by a near shutdown of the American economy which is struggling to an even greater extent with COVID-19 – is reaching unprecedented levels.

As part of his mandate as Minister for Families, Children and Social Development in the Trudeau Liberal cabinet, Ahmed Hussen is also responsible for the federal government’s strategy to help Canadians affected by homelessness.

Ottawa ready to ante up again for the homeless should COVID-19 ‘second wave’ call for it, says Families, Children and Social Development Minister

“We are doing everything that we can to increase the capacity to build more housing” for homeless and needy people, Hussen said in an interview with Newsfirst Multimedia.

He noted that the National Housing Strategy, introduced by the Trudeau Liberals after they first came into power in 2015, has seen $55 billion allocated for affordable housing by Ottawa after years of neglect by previous administrations.

Action if necessary, he says

We asked Hussen whether there is a possibility that in the next year-and-a-half, depending on the course of the pandemic, Ottawa might ramp up help even further for Canada’s homeless given the worsening conditions.

“I would say, look, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” he replied. “But what you can count on is that as a government we have demonstrated that we are there for the most vulnerable at the most difficult time.

“And in the future, if that is necessary again, we will certainly do that,” added Hussen. “Because at the end of the day we want to be there for Canadians at their moment of need, both directly but also helping the organizations that do the heavy lifting.”

More funding allocated

While the Ministry for Families, Children and Social Development launched its wide-ranging ‘Reaching Home’ homelessness strategy long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, Hussen’s ministry has been able to provide $157.5 million in extra support for the homeless during the current pandemic.

Of this, $21.4 million went to Quebec, with more than $2 million specifically allocated for Montreal where homelessness is reaching crisis levels.

“I’ve been speaking to many, many different groups dealing with the homeless, and they have told me that federal dollars have made a big difference,” Hussen said, adding that $50 million was also set aside this year by Ottawa specifically for shelters dealing with homeless women.

Impact on the Ministry

Hussen was asked how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted or changed his ministry’s way of doing things. “The only difference is that the methods of engagement have changed for my colleagues and myself,” he answered.

“We still go to some events. We do Zoom meetings with community organizations in my constituency, as well as community organizations that are on the front lines of helping the most affected people in my riding.

“That work hasn’t stopped – in fact, it has increased,” Hussen added. “I have three food banks in my constituency and they’re seeing much, much higher volume. We go there and we try to do what we can. As a minister I would say the same thing, but way more Zoom meetings.”

‘Helping the helpers’

In addition to helping administer the federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), Ahmed Hussen is the minister responsible for the Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF), which contains $350 million to assist organizations that are providing help to the country’s most vulnerable people during the pandemic.

“We’re helping the helpers,” he said of the assistance this particular fund is providing. “I’ve visited one organization recently in Milton, Ontario where they had an infant food program providing formula and other essential supplies like diapers to families in need who have infants, and their needs have gone way up. They were able to apply to the Emergency Community Support Fund and they got some money through that and it will help them to serve more people.”

Martin C. Barry
Martin C. Barryhttp://www.lavalnews.ca
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for the Laval News. During his 23 years of covering political and community issues in the Montreal region, Marty has won numerous journalism awards from the Quebec Community Newspapers Association for written coverage as well as for photography. marty@newsfirst.ca

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