The federal government will kick in $86 million over the next four years to help combat homelessness in Toronto.

Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver made the announcement in Etobicoke Friday along with Mayor John Tory, Minister of State for Social Development Candice Bergen and Etobicoke-Lakeshore MP Bernard Trottier.

The money will come through the government’s “Housing First” initiative – a program being rolled out across the country through local agencies to help homeless people become self-sufficient through permanent housing. It also includes funding support to help address underlying issues such as addiction and mental health.

“Homelessness is a terrible scourge and unfortunately it’s here as well,” Oliver said. “Over 5,000 people are living homeless in Toronto as of April 2013 and about a third of those are aboriginal and a third are seniors.”

He said numbers are estimated to be even higher when the youth homeless population is taken into account.

“Given this reality we cannot sit in silence. As a responsible government and as caring citizens, we’re called to act and not with band-aid solutions,” Oliver said.

He said the aim of the program is ultimately to help homeless individuals enter or re-enter the workforce.

“With this support Toronto’s homeless will have what they need not only to survive, but to thrive,” Oliver said.

Speaking to reporters, Tory welcomed the funding and said he expects it will go a long way to helping those most in need in the city.

“Simply put, we need to do more for our most vulnerable people,” Tory said. “I think it is one of the real measures of who we are as Torontonians and as Canadians.”

Tory lauded the federal government for committing to fund the program through 2019.

“What that allows us to do is some planning,” Tory said. “It allows the agencies we support to do some planning because quite often with government programs at all different levels of government one of the problems is it’s here today and gone tomorrow and that doesn’t allow for the kind of stability for yes, the agencies, but also for the people that they help.”

The mayor called the program a “shining” example of governments and non-profit agencies working together to help solve problems.

The announcement comes as the city is gripped by a bout of bitterly cold weather that has triggered yet another extreme cold weather alert to open expanded services for the homeless.

So far this winter a number of homeless people have already died amid frigid temperatures.

On Jan. 13, homeless man Grant Alex Faulkner, 49, died in a fire at a makeshift shelter in Scarborough. It is believed Faulkner was attempting to light a fire to keep warm. Family and friends remembered him fondly and said he had suffered from a number of problems, including alcoholism.

At least two other men were also found dead amid bitterly cold temperatures last month – one inside a delivery truck in the Davenport Road and Wiltshire Avenue area and another at a TTC shelter near Yonge-Dundas Square.

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