By Emily Bedford

Like housing, a voice in policy is a human right that needs to be fought for. Like housing, just because it’s a right doesn’t mean it’s always accessible.

Our electoral process is a representation of the society in which we live, and if certain groups cannot be informed or participate in election regularly, they will inevitably remain at the margins of the policy-making that directly affects them.

The problem is that voting locations are not always welcoming to people experiencing homelessness: individuals report feeling anxious and excluded, ill-informed or face mobility or transportation barriers. Thankfully, the City of Calgary is well-aware of these issues and has sought to find solutions:

  1. Those without permanent addresses can bring a letter of attestation.

Capture3

Any shelter staff member can fill out a letter of attestation. In other words, they can vouch for someone’s identity if they do not have a piece of ID or a permanent address. All it requires is the elector’s name and the place they receive services, and a verification signature from the staff member.

 

 

2. There are mobile advanced voting locations in easily accessible areas downtown,       specifically outside the Calgary Drop-In Centre

vote-bus

Electors could access the advanced voting bus at the beginning of October. This can decrease the anxiety that homeless voters can face from having to disclose their circumstances to polling officers in front of a number of people, and reduces the risk of them being turned away.

 

 

   3. Information about candidates and their platforms is easily accessible to those with access to internet

Elections Calgary’s Meet the Candidates page is easy to navigate to ensure voters have the opportunity to be well-informed before they place their ballot. Free use of computers with internet connections is available at various shelters and at public libraries.

We’ve learned a lot from holding a mock election last year to prepare for the 2016 federal election, where we spoke face-to-face to those experiencing homelessness about their biggest policy concerns. Among the choices, minimum income, affordable housing, harm reduction and mental health issues were the most prominent. Voter education and having a mobile polling station on-site greatly increased participation.

So what can we do?

You’ve already taken the time to get informed about the issues that face homeless Calgarian voters, and that’s the first step. The next step is to use your vote to advocate for those experiencing homelessness by checking out the positions of the mayoral and councillor candidates on affordable housing, income, harm reduction and mental health issues. We’ve compiled a few of them here, taken from campaign websites.

Calgary Homeless Foundation will continue to advocate for Housing First policies with and for our community. Together, we’ll fight for a home for everyone.

 

Use your vote to advocate for those experiencing homelessness by checking out the positions of the mayoral and councillor candidates on affordable housing, income, harm reduction and mental health issues. We’ve compiled a few of them from below, taken from campaign websites or requests for comment.

Read more

By: Joel Sinclair

Significant advances in the battle against homelessness are being won. Since 2008, and the implementation of Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness, the average number of nightly stays by single adults in Calgary emergency shelters has fallen by 40%.

A Noted Downward Trend

shelterStaysGraph

Analysis published today by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy clearly illustrates an encouraging downward trend in the use of emergency shelters by single adults. In fact, as much as there is variation in the chart within any given year, the year-over-year number of shelter stays observed has been continually shrinking. This is good news.

Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness was launched in 2008 by a multi-stakeholder leadership group with the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) appointed as the implementer. Since then, Calgary has become a leader in the charge to end homelessness and our city’s homeless-serving community’s grounded approach in the Housing First model has become a world standard for addressing the chronic issues of homelessness in a collaborative, data-driven and forward-thinking way.

Factors to Progress

Factors that have contributed to this downward trend have been noted by Nick Falvo (CHF’s Director of Research and Data), as well as Ron Kneebone and Margarita Wilkins (both with the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy)

“Housing First has always been a core component of Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness, and our primary focus on housing people with supports reduces the pressure on Calgary’s shelters,” says Diana Krecsy, President and CEO of CHF. “In concert with that, our city’s homeless-serving system of care has continually focused on creating greater housing stability for our clients. Continuous advancements and refinements in program design and measurement have resulted in constant improvements in housing retention, allowing us to achieve an annual housing retention rate of 91% – which means that fewer people are falling back into homelessness or having to rely on the shelter system.”

In addition to Calgary’s homeless-serving community’s successful implementation and execution of these core aspects of Calgary’s Plan, we should also consider the impact that the following components have had on contributing to this downward trend:

Better Triaging: Addressing the needs of our city’s most vulnerable through ground-breaking triage programs such as Coordinated Access and Assessment also means that our clients are moving straight into housing programs and remaining stably housed.

Rental market fluctuation. When rental vacancy rates are high, landlords are often more eager to rent units, as it becomes a ‘renter’s market.’ High vacancy rates in Calgary over the past two years have therefore made it easier for persons experiencing homelessness to access rental units in our city.

Social assistance benefit levels. Benefit levels for Alberta social assistance recipients have increased since 2008.  For example, total annual income received by a ‘single employable’ household receiving social assistance jumped by more than 30% in 2009; and the total annual income for a single adult receiving Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped increased by 30% between 2011 and 2013. Higher incomes have made it easier for persons experiencing homelessness (or people on the verge of experiencing homelessness) to access and maintain rental housing.

What’s next?

With the goal of ending homelessness in our city, it’s vital that, as a community, we continue to focus on increased coordination and collaboration across our homeless-serving system of care. It’s also important that we continue to foster greater integration with ‘big system’ public service care providers.

For agencies at the front line, seeing the positive, measurable results of their efforts founded in data and research matters a great deal.

“We have to give kudos to the shelters in Calgary. They are a vital part of Calgary’s Homeless-Serving System of Care, and we have some really amazing shelters that are serving people when they are in need”, says Krecsy, “The shelters are our emergency department, and they need to be there. But we must also focus on the group of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness – people who have been in there a long time – and get them into the housing and supports they need.”

We have made notable progress in ending homelessness in Calgary, but we can do more. To reach our collective goal we must continue to do the great work we are all doing together, until everyone has a home.

By: Joel Sinclair

Significant advances in the battle against homelessness are being won. Since 2008, and the implementation of Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness, the average number of nightly stays by single adults in Calgary emergency shelters has fallen by 40%.

A Noted Downward Trend

Shelter Stays Graph

Analysis published today by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy clearly illustrates an encouraging downward trend in the use of emergency shelters by single adults. In fact, as much as there is variation in the chart within any given year, the year-over-year number of shelter stays observed has been continually shrinking. This is good news.

Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness was launched in 2008 by a multi-stakeholder leadership group with the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) appointed as the implementer. Since then, Calgary has become a leader in the charge to end homelessness and our city’s homeless-serving community’s grounded approach in the Housing First model has become a world standard for addressing the chronic issues of homelessness in a collaborative, data-driven and forward-thinking way.

Factors to Progress

Factors that have contributed to this downward trend have been noted by Nick Falvo (CHF’s Director of Research and Data), as well as Ron Kneebone and Margarita Wilkins (both with the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy)

“Housing First has always been a core component of Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness, and our primary focus on housing people with supports reduces the pressure on Calgary’s shelters,” says Diana Krecsy, President and CEO of CHF. “In concert with that, our city’s homeless-serving system of care has continually focused on creating greater housing stability for our clients. Continuous advancements and refinements in program design and measurement have resulted in constant improvements in housing retention, allowing us to achieve an annual housing retention rate of 91% – which means that fewer people are falling back into homelessness or having to rely on the shelter system.”

In addition to Calgary’s homeless-serving community’s successful implementation and execution of these core aspects of Calgary’s Plan, we should also consider the impact that the following components have had on contributing to this downward trend:

Better Triaging: Addressing the needs of our city’s most vulnerable through ground-breaking triage programs such as Coordinated Access and Assessment also means that our clients are moving straight into housing programs and remaining stably housed.

Rental market fluctuation. When rental vacancy rates are high, landlords are often more eager to rent units, as it becomes a ‘renter’s market.’ High vacancy rates in Calgary over the past two years have therefore made it easier for persons experiencing homelessness to access rental units in our city.

Social assistance benefit levels. Benefit levels for Alberta social assistance recipients have increased since 2008.  For example, total annual income received by a ‘single employable’ household receiving social assistance jumped by more than 30% in 2009; and the total annual income for a single adult receiving Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped increased by 30% between 2011 and 2013. Higher incomes have made it easier for persons experiencing homelessness (or people on the verge of experiencing homelessness) to access and maintain rental housing.

What’s next?

With the goal of ending homelessness in our city, it’s vital that, as a community, we continue to focus on increased coordination and collaboration across our homeless-serving system of care. It’s also important that we continue to foster greater integration with ‘big system’ public service care providers.

For agencies at the front line, seeing the positive, measurable results of their efforts founded in data and research matters a great deal.

“We have to give kudos to the shelters in Calgary. They are a vital part of Calgary’s Homeless-Serving System of Care, and we have some really amazing shelters that are serving people when they are in need”, says Krecsy, “The shelters are our emergency department, and they need to be there. But we must also focus on the group of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness – people who have been in there a long time – and get them into the housing and supports they need.”

We have made notable progress in ending homelessness in Calgary, but we can do more. To reach our collective goal we must continue to do the great work we are all doing together, until everyone has a home.

During the month of August, we met with the Client Action Committee on multiple occasions to draft a response letter outlining their recommendations for the redesign of the Housing Partnering Strategy.

CHF_CAC

Please take some time to read what this amazing group of individuals submitted, and make your voice heard too!

The deadline to take the survey or submit your own response is August 31, so there is still time to have your voice heard as well! We encourage you to participate with your own thoughts, or forward a copy of CHF’s response, expressing your support for CHF’s recommendations.

The following blog post is a condensed version of Calgary Homeless Foundation’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy Submission. You can read the full submission HERE.

The Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) submitted recommendations for the redesign of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) on Thursday, August 24, 2017.  Through the HPS, the Government of Canada provides support and funding to communities to develop local solutions to homelessness. We applaud the Government of Canada’s Budget 2017 announcement that it would expand and extend funding for the HPS beyond 2018-2019. The Government has tasked an Advisory Committee on Homelessness to provide recommendations for a redesign of an expanded HPS.  A brief summary of our survey response and submission to the Committee is below.

  1. We believe that an expanded HPS should:
  • Make federal and provincial homelessness funding co-ordinated, consistent and transparent;
  • Align HPS fund administration structures to the development/ organizational life stage of a community; and
  • Increase resources, including staffing, for the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System.
  1. CHF data supports the efficacy of the housing first approach to stably house people experiencing homelessness and reduce public systems usage, when properly resourced and implemented.
  2. CHF believes that one way to prevent homelessness is to reduce poverty, and we look forward to recommendations that will soon be made by the advisory committee for a national poverty strategy. We have submitted recommendations of our own as part that process which can be found here.
  3. A number of promising practices at a systems level have had a significant impact on improving housing stability for people experiencing homelessness in Calgary. These include:
  • Coordinating Access and Assessment
  • Providing Training and Accreditation
  • Participation in the Recovery Task Force
  • Membership in Collectives with Aligned Missions
  • Empowering the Client Action Committee

Looking for ways to share your opinions and find out more information?

The Government of Canada’s Advisory Committee on Homelessness is inviting you to join the conversation and participate in online consultation until August 31st.  Find more details here.

Feel free to share our response via e-mail or social media to your local MP and the Advisory Committee on Homelessness.

The need for mental health supports

By Janice Chan

Janice Chan is a System Planner at CHF


Alberta’s Health Funding Agreement March 10th announcement of an additional $1.3 billion over the next 10 years, including $586 million in support of mental health initiatives is good news for Albertans.  Given that this funding falls short of the 5.2% increase the Alberta Government requested of Ottawa[1], the Alberta government will need to be prudent with its spending to make the greatest impact in a cost-effective manner.

Greatest Impact

People experiencing mental illness are at greater risk of homelessness and the experience of homelessness, “in turn, amplifies poor mental health.”[2]  We know this to be true in Calgary.  Ganesh et al. (2013) screened clients at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre for common psychiatric disorders and found 92.8% experienced one or more psychiatric illness and 60% had been undiagnosed and (or) untreated for their illness.[3]  Furthermore, according to CHF’s Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) data collected between April 1, 2012 and March 31, 2014, 48% of clients in CHF’s housing programs experience mental illness.  Given the pressing need to address mental illness amongst people experiencing homelessness, we believe this critical investment would have a substantial impact on Calgary’s most vulnerable people.

Cost Savings

The At Home/Chez Soi study demonstrated that, for people experiencing chronic and episodic homelessness, there are substantial savings associated with the provision of housing with supports. The final report demonstrated that for the 10% of participants who were using the most services upon enrolment, every $1 invested in housing and professional support during the course of the study resulted in average savings of just over $2. And across all study participants, every $1 invested in housing and professional support resulted in $0.75 in savings on health, justice-related and social services.[4]  The 2016 State of Homelessness in Canada report estimates that homelessness costs Canadians over $7 billion per year.  Investing in critical social services, like mental health supports for Calgary’s most vulnerable can provide much needed cost savings to the public purse.

infographic_janice_large

What’s Needed

CHF’s 2017 budget submissions to federal and provincial governments, have asked for $8 million to help meet critical local funding needs to support vulnerable tenants in 166 new affordable housing units, scheduled to be built through the RESOLVE Campaign.  Funding for the full capital costs of these buildings is in place, however, program funding required to support tenants living in these buildings has not been confirmed. Long-term funding for adequate supports must be secured for people experiencing chronic and episodic homelessness to remain stably housed.

Bradley et al. (2016) concluded that money invested in health should not be limited to spending on health care, but also in social services and public health.[5] We hope that the recent additional mental health funding will be used not only to support health care, but also social services to help stabilize Calgary’s most vulnerable in housing through collaboration between Alberta Health and Community and Social Services.  Calgary’s Bridgeland and Ophelia Support Program, cost-shared by the two ministries, demonstrates the benefits of collaboration to provide stable housing and mental health services for people with severe and persistent mental illness and experiencing homelessness.  Not only will this investment make a substantial impact, but also provides cost-savings in health and justice public expenditures.

CHF welcomes the opportunity to further consult with the provincial government as it develops “a detailed plan on how these funds will be spent, over and above existing programs,” with the hope that it will include support to people experiencing mental illness and homelessness.


[1] Kaufmann, B. (2017) ‘Alberta says it hoped for more in $1.3-billion health funding deal with Ottawa’, Calgary Herald, Available from: http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/alberta-says-it-hoped-for-more-in-1-3-billion-health-funding-deal-with-ottawa, [29 Mar.2017].

[2] Homeless Hub. (n.d.) Mental Health, [online]. Available from: http://homelesshub.ca/about-homelessness/topics/mental-health [Accessed 16 Mar. 2017].

[3] Ganesh, A., Campbell, D., Hurley, J., Patten, S. (2013) ‘High Positive Psychiatric Screening Rates in an Urban Homeless Population’, Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 58(6), 353-360.

[4] Goering, P., Veldhuizen, S., Watson, A., Adair, C., Kopp, B., Latimer, E., Nelson, G., MacNaughton, E., Streiner, D., & Aubry, T. (2014) National At Home/Chez Soi Final Report. Calgary: Mental Health Commission of Canada.

[5] Bradley, E., Canavan, M., Talbert-Slagle, K., Ndumele, C., Taylor, L., and Curry, L. (2016) ‘Variation in Health Outcomes: The Role of Spending on Social Services, Public Health and Health Care, 2000-09’, Health Affairs, 35(5), 760-768.

The third Connectivity Breakfast Community Action: Target 2018 was held on October 10th, 2016 at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre. In total, 37 organizations within the homeless-serving sector and associated sectors were represented by 63 Executive Directors, Board Chairs and designates. While the topic of conversation is different at each breakfast, the goal always remains the same: bringing organizations within the homeless-serving sector together with public systems providers and other providers of services to the sector to continue to further integration across the homeless-serving system of care and strengthen collaboration and our collective impact towards ending homelessness in Calgary.

(Debbie Newman, Executive Director of the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre, gives an update on the Calgary Recovery Services Task Force)

This breakfast highlighted the work of the Calgary Recovery Services Task Force, a collective of 26 Calgary agencies and government partners measuring and addressing the need for vulnerable populations. The main focus was to provide a high level picture of all we’ve achieved as community since launching Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness in 2008. Kevin McNichol, VP Strategy at the Calgary Homeless Foundation, provided an overview of 10 things we, as a community, can accomplish by the end of 2018. Of those 10 things, participants were asked to prioritize their top 7 and then, as a cohort at each table, determine the top 3.

The final report from this Connectivity Breakfast will be released in December 2016 and the next breakfast will be held in the fall of 2017.

greengate-photo-mid-december

“It came without ribbons, it came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags.” And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more…”

Christmas with greengate Garden Centres always means just a little bit more. While each year greengate outdoes themselves with magazine worthy pre-decorated Christmas Trees, fresh cider daily for their guests and Christmas gift options for every age, they have never forgotten what Christmas is truly about: caring for our fellow Calgarians.

Each year for the past fourteen years, greengate Garden Centres and its owners, the Telford family, have helped Calgarians experiencing homelessness with their “Help the Homeless this Holiday” Campaign. In addition to collecting monetary donations, greengate also serves as a drop-off location for items such as gently used winter wear, recreational activity passes, Calgary Transit bus passes, gifts cards to grocery stores, Tim Hortons gift cards and toiletries.

“As a family, we have been very fortunate and it has always been important to us to give to the less fortunate families and kids in our community,” says Harrington Telford, one of the owners of greengate Garden Centres.  “We also believe it’s important for us to encourage others to give as well which is why we collect donations every year. We love doing it because it makes us feel good.”

The impact of their time and donations is incredible. More than 3 truckloads of clothing, winter jackets and blankets were delivered to agencies, through the Calgary Homeless Foundation, before Christmas last year. Another large load of toiletries, transit passes, gift cards and children’s activity passes were shared amongst the agencies who serve Calgary’s most vulnerable. This year, they hope to be able to give even more.

“We know times are really tough in our community, especially for people who have no place to call home and no shelter during our cold Calgary winters. This is why we have always held our biggest charity campaign over the Christmas season,” shares Harrington. “We are aware of how much the Calgary Homeless Foundation has helped citizens in Calgary through their support of charities that help the homeless and we are very proud to be associated with an organization that does such a great job.”

To learn more about greengate Garden Centres visit www.greengate.ca.

blanket-group-shot

On November 24, 2016, StreetSide Developments: A Qualico company, alongside the RESOLVE Campaign, HomeSpace Society, the Calgary Homeless Foundation and Alpha House, hosted the grand opening of Aurora on the Park. This 25 unit, fully accessible building was constructed specifically to support vulnerable Calgarians experiencing homelessness. Named after the Aurora glow that symbolizes the dawn of a new day, the grand opening was a celebration of the beginning of a new life and a new home for these 25 individuals. Elder Casey Eagle Speaker blessed Aurora’s opening and spoke of the dawning of new hope for these 25 Calgarians who needed it most.

casey

Each of the clients’ homes are designed for wheelchair accessibility and are completely barrier free. The common areas, a space where clients can gather for meals and to socialize, are also fully accessible. While each suite has been built for tenants to be able to cook for themselves, Meals on Wheels will also visit daily to provide tenants with healthy, well rounded meals.

The tenants of Aurora on the Park will receive full support from the Alpha House Society who will be the case manager for the building. This allows tenants to access support twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Aurora on the Park is the third building to be completed in a series of purpose-built apartments that are constructed by Calgary home builders for the Calgary Homeless Foundation through the RESOLVE Campaign and with support from the Government of Alberta. “The partnership of all levels of government, Calgary Home Builders and the RESOLVE Campaign continues to make ending homelessness possible in Calgary,” says Diana Krecsy, President & CEO of CHF. “Aurora on the Park represents more than just an accessible home for 25 individuals experiencing homelessness. It represents hope and a better future for them and for all Calgarians.”

For more information on Aurora on the Park, please visit the RESOLVE Campaign website or read StreetSide Developments’ blog, Grand Opening of Aurora on the Park.