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Ottawa gives Toronto $86M to help combat homelessness

The federal government is offering a financial hand to Toronto’s homeless.

At a news conference on Friday morning, federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver announced the government will be providing just over $86 million to the city to help provide housing for the city’s most vulnerable.

The funding is part of a five-year plan to help combat homelessness, and the city will decide how it will be used.

Homelessness is a “terrible scourge,” Oliver said, adding more than 5,000 people were homeless in Toronto as of April 2013 and one-third of them were seniors.

Oliver said the funding is about investing in Toronto’s most vulnerable and homelessness is an issue that is “close to Mayor John Tory’s heart.”

Candice Bergen, minister responsible for the GTA, said the federal government would like to see around 65 per cent of the funding go directly to “housing first projects.”

“We need to do more for our most vulnerable people,” Tory said, adding homelessness is a key issue for him and council.

He said the money will provide agencies who work with the homeless the financial stability to plan ahead.

The funding is not “new money,” said Patricia Anderson, a manager at the city’s Shelter, Support & Housing Administration Division, in an email, and “refers to the Toronto allocation of $86.5 million for the 2014 to 2019 funding for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy.”

Anderson said the agency had known the program would be renewed since August 2013, adding that it has “already invested funds to 2016 with about 100 community agencies.”

According to Tory, funding from the federal program helped the city launch the Streets to Homes program in 2005.

He said it has helped thousands of people, who have been able to settle in permanent housing since then.

Tory said the federal funding will last until 2019, but he wants to continue discussions with both levels of government about affordable housing and continued funding.

The news conference was held at the Furniture Bank, which was founded by Sister Anne Schenck as a place where people in need can go to furnish their homes.

She said the idea for Furniture Bank came about when she visited a Scarborough family which didn’t have enough plates for its children.

Martin Train, a homeless man who has since turned his life around, said Furniture Bank “made their house into a home.” At one point, Train had lost his home, job, separated from his children, and ended up homeless.

With files from Kris McCusker