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A Canadian Perspective on Ending Homelessness [Video]

What does an end to homelessness look like? The city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada is on the road to finding out. 

What does an end to homelessness look like? The city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada is on the road to finding out. Calgary is in the fifth year of its 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, which is administered by the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF). Calgary is the first city in Canada to establish a 10 Year Plan.

Calgary’s goal is that by January 2018, no one will have to spend more than one week sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter before moving into a safe, decent, affordable home with the support needed to sustain it.

A lot of things need to come together for this to happen. Here’s an overview.

 1. Housing First

With Housing First, people experiencing homelessness move into appropriate housing first, giving them the opportunity to work on the issues that contributed to their homelessness from a stable and safe home. Calgary has had much success with this model – approximately 85% of people housed this way have been able to retain their housing after one year, and its actually costs about two to three times less than traditional emergency and institutional responses to homelessness.

 2. Affordable Housing

Emergency shelters were not intended to become long-term residences. But people can only step away from emergency shelter if there is affordable housing that meets their needs. Calgary currently has a shortage of truly affordable housing – rent that is under or around $500 per month. The Government of Alberta has stepped up with 70% of the funds needed for many affordable housing projects. Local agencies, including the CHF, are coming together to fundraise for the remaining funds and develop new affordable housing projects

3. System Planning:

In Calgary, more than 130 agencies provide programs or services to people experiencing homelessness. Prior to the 10 Year Plan, these agencies’ efforts were largely disjointed. One of the CHF’s roles is to bring the homeless-serving community together to meet targeted outcomes, provide consistent service, share best practices, and ensure sufficient programming is in place for all demographics. Most importantly, a system must be established that is sustainable beyond the timeframe of the 10 Year Plan.

4. Information Sharing:

For the last two years, the CHF has been working to get all the homeless-serving agencies on the “Homeless Management Information System” (HMIS). While still following all privacy laws, this shared database makes it possible to improve service coordination and referral processes, reduce administrative burdens, and provide more efficient, compassionate care. HMIS will also make it possible to collect system-wide, current data on the overall homeless population, in order to improve research and back up advocacy efforts with solid facts.

5. Agency Support

One of the CHF’s primary responsibilities in leading the 10 Year Plan is to support frontline non-profit agencies. In this role, the CHF provides training opportunities and accreditation for case workers. CHF also receives funding from government to distribute to agencies for programs and affordable housing projects.

 6. Community Participation

A community plan is nothing without community. Calgary’s 10 Year Plan was first initiated by leading business people and philanthropists within the city, and city-wide support is needed to continue with progress. However many Calgarians are unaware of the issues facing people who are homeless or what they can do to help. One of the most recent efforts to raise awareness has been a joint effort campaign by the CHF and other agencies called Face it Calgary, involving marketing, social media and volunteer-driven events.

Much progress has been made, but more must be done.

Since the start of the Plan, more than 4,000 people (including men, women and children) have received housing with the support they need, and over 3,600 affordable housing units have been funded. Yet with Calgary’s economy improving faster than the rest of the country, many people are moving here for work without first establishing a stable housing option. The number of Aboriginal people experiencing homelessness is also increasing, as people move from reserves to the city. Calgary’s challenge in the coming five years will be to continue building a strong, interconnected homeless-serving system, with the programming and infrastructure in place to meet evolving, increasing demand.

Kayleigh Meyers is the Communications Advisor for the Calgary Homeless Foundation.

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