In recognition of World Homeless Day and World Mental Health Day, Calgary Homeless Foundation is celebrating the success of a unique partnership in the city’s homeless-serving sector that pairs people experiencing homelessness with virtual or in-person mental health supports.

Mental health challenges can pose a barrier to obtaining and keeping a home, and the experience of homelessness can exacerbate a person’s mental health issues. According to The Mental Health Commission of Canada, between 25-50% of the homeless population in Canada suffer from a mental illness. On average, about three-quarters of those on our triage list awaiting housing have identified mental health concerns.

Calgary’s homeless-serving sector is doing its part to address these challenges. From March to September 2021, people experiencing homelessness attended 403 individual counselling sessions as part of the Rapid Care Counselling pilot. Of those 403, 88 (22%) were virtual, while the remaining 315 were conducted in-person at 17 different agencies in Calgary.

The pilot, launched earlier this year in February, is an innovative collaboration between Calgary Homeless Foundation, CUPS, and Catholic Family Service (CFS) that responds to the growing need for mental health supports during the pandemic.

Both CFS and CUPS have an established track record of offering mental health services to people experiencing homelessness through the CFS Rapid Care Access Counselling program and CUPS Shared Care Mental Health program.

Under the pilot, people who are at risk of homelessness or who are living without a home in shelters or supportive housing connect with a qualified CFS counsellor within three business days.

During their initial session, participants receive a care plan that may include future sessions, community supports, or referrals to long-term mental health supports with CUPS Shared Care Mental Health counsellors. Since the start of the pilot, 82 participants have moved past their initial session with CFS counsellors to attend an additional session with CUPS.

At the time of the launch, Patricia Jones, President and CEO of Calgary Homeless Foundation, described the pilot as “the first step in connecting the health, housing, and homelessness sectors together and addressing the systemic issues contributing to someone’s experience of homelessness.”

In a recent Family Service Canada newsletter, a participant of the pilot said, “The session was extremely helpful. I achieved the mindset I was looking for.” Another participant noted, “I feel more confident about my plans for the future.”

Calgary Homeless Foundation looks forward to continuing this vital service for children, youth, adults, and families as they navigate through their mental health and housing challenges.


You joined the team at Calgary Homeless Foundation, or CHF, during a transformational time. Can you share your personal journey, including what inspired you to lead the team at CHF? 

Transitioning from a 27-year career in family service was not a decision I made lightly, but I was inspired by the work of CHF and the opportunity to impact those most vulnerable at a system level. Although I have been in the nonprofit sector for many years, I hadn’t had very much experience serving those experiencing homelessness. I have been grateful for the challenge and the learning. 

As you reflect on this past year, what accomplishments are you most proud of and what are your key learnings? 

Wow, the year went so fast! What am I most proud of? Some days, just getting through and understanding the acronyms! In all seriousness, I am proud of getting to know the work of the teams and the people on them (virtually), working together with community to develop a clear purpose and ambition, and, within the year, delivering our updated strategic plan, Focus to 2025. 

I am grateful to have met each CEO in our system of care, and I continue to learn from them. I am grateful for the relationships developed with the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada.   

One key learning is the depth and breadth of expertise in our community, which has a deep understanding that ‘one size does NOT fit all’ with human beings. The continuum of supports for those experiencing homelessness—from paying a damage deposit, liaising with the health system, palliative care, helping someone stabilize for a short period of time, and then getting back out there, to those who need intense longer-term supports to be housed—is truly inspiring.   

I strongly believe that as a community, it is not OK that someone does not have a home. It is our collective responsibility to lift up our neighbors, and the Coordinated Access and Assessment approach—with 23 agencies meeting weekly with us to ensure everyone has a home and a barrier-free, humane experience in reaching it—is collaboration and partnership at is finest. 

Why is guiding the fight against homelessness meaningful to you? 

Every word in our purpose was carefully chosen and the result of over 75 conversations with the board, staff, and the community at large.  

“Fight” is a strong word, and intentionally so, as I believe some fights are worth entering into. Fighting against the concept called “homelessness” is an honourable fight, because we do not want anyone to experience it as part of this journey we call life.  

This purpose comes alive ONLY through collaboration with many people, as a result of conversations and relationships built through trust. CHF is a participant in a much bigger system and the word ‘guiding’ was very intentional, conjuring up for me the visual of a wise mountain guide, leading the way, who has a deep grasp of the complicating factors that impact someone without a home. With this knowledge and earned relationships in the community, we hope to add value by identifying what works and what doesn’t in support of all Calgarians finding their way home. 

As we look ahead to the upcoming year and beyond, what are your primary areas of focus? How will this have an impact on those at risk of or experiencing homelessness? All Calgarians? 

We are excited to launch our strategic plan to September 2025 and to work together with the community to continue allocating resources for the highest impact and outcomes. We pair this action with an appetite for out-of-the-box thinking so we can continue to improve access and outcomes for those who are often in the darkest moments of their lives.   

We continue to reach out, listen to and learn from Indigenous leaders so we can offer our support for an Indigenous-centric homeless serving system of care, and we will continue to co-create with community an evaluation and learning culture through a recovery lens. 

Do you have anything more that you would like to share?  

Throughout the past year, I’ve asked myself more than once, “What was I thinking, leaving a secure job in the middle of a pandemic to enter into a world in which I knew very little?” But the work of CHF, the high competency of staff, their absolute commitment to every Calgarian finding their way home with the supports they need, and the privilege of a system-level view compelled me to join this amazing organization. I was not leaving my job, but rather going to something very exciting. It has been a pleasure and a privilege and I would not have missed it for the world.   

I am grateful for the CHF board, the depth and expertise of each CHF staff member, our government partners, health partners, our housing partner Homespace Society, and the non-profit community for their generosity and kindness to me in the past year and their willingness to work together for a world in which homelessness may be an unfortunate experience in one’s life but never the enduring feature. 

It is with profound sorrow that we must again bear witness to the ongoing tragedy affecting our Indigenous peoples. The latest news from Saskatchewan shared by Cowessess First Nation upon confirmation of 751 unmarked graves near Marieval Residential School continues to challenge us, as Canadians, to confront the dark side of our past.  We have a long way to go to fully understand the deep impact of the residential school system on Indigenous communities.  

As I reflect on the work we do with our community partners in support of vulnerable populations and, in particular, of individuals of Indigenous ancestry, I am reminded of the importance of conducting our work with compassion and humility.    

As a mother, aunt, sister and daughter I literally cannot comprehend the experience of a parent having a child ripped from their home never to return again.  

We all know there is a long way to go and we are strongly committed to our ambition to promote the reconciliation necessary to break down barriers by giving, receiving, listening and reaching out in love.  

I am so glad that our strategy names “reaching out in love,” because this has never been so needed. 

-Patricia Jones, President and CEO, Calgary Homeless Foundation


Support is available: 

  • Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary: 403-801-7482. Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary’s Elder line is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. for individuals in need of support.  
Innovation-TogetherSubmitted by: Patricia Jones, President and CEO, Calgary Homeless Foundation and Karen Young, President and CEO, United Way of Calgary and Area.

Over a year into the pandemic, more people are seeking help from the social sector than ever before. According to Distress Centre Calgary, suicide-related crisis contacts were up 41 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019, while over 2,900 people in Calgary are without a home on any given night. With sinking revenues and increasing demand, 78 per cent of charities are turning to innovation to better reach clients and achieve their missions.

For those of us working in the social sector, Canadian Innovation Week reminds us that we need to stay open to experimentation if we want to help those we serve. Innovation doesn’t come with a master plan or a polished strategy. More often than not, it is a set of seemingly random activities that develop into something greater and more permanent, because people and organizations are willing to try things out together.

United Way of Calgary and Area, for example, has created a community impact framework based on research, agency collaboration and feedback, as well as partnerships that arose in an impromptu fashion during the pandemic. This framework will improve the system of care in Calgary by generating more resources for big-picture initiatives, and providing better access to services and supports for people most at risk.

Rapid Care Counselling was a pre-existing program funded by United Way, among others, that included counselling from Catholic Family Service, an agency United Way has been funding for over 40 years. During the pandemic, and as part of the city’s new mental health and addictions strategy, Calgary Homeless Foundation adapted the program with the help of key agency partners to best serve those experiencing homelessness. Sometimes, being able to book a counselling appointment at 3 a.m. can be enough to help you hang on, and this program allows people experiencing homelessness to meet with a counsellor — online or in-person — within three days.

United Way’s AdaptiveYYC, which won the New Normal Ninja award in April 2021 for innovation during the pandemic, is an app that delivers free workplace mental well-being training to organizations who need the support — including agencies on the front-lines — to respond to the pandemic with resilience.

COVID-19 has created more willingness and urgency to test new ideas, and this past year has been rich with projects that demonstrate this new attitude. In March 2020, Calgary Homeless Foundation — with government, HomeSpace Society, The Alex and CUPS — launched the Assisted Self-Isolation Hotel, a 100-unit facility that allowed people experiencing homelessness to self-isolate. From March 2020 and February of this year, 212 individuals and families living at the site have since found their way home.

In partnership with the Ministry of Seniors and Housing and community leaders, United Way is also bringing community-based, senior-serving organizations together around a common vision of healthy aging in the community, and to help seniors live in their own homes as long as possible. Seniors have been greatly impacted during the pandemic, often isolated and without access to critical supports. Healthy Aging CORE Alberta is an online knowledge and learning hub that supports the bigger objectives of the initiative, galvanizing co-operation and co-ordination to enhance the health and well-being of Albertan seniors.

This is only a small snapshot of the work being done. Now more than ever, the social sector has stepped up to find new and powerful ways of working together for shared outcomes, enabling people in need to continue finding the supports and services for their well-being. For those of us working in the social sector, remember: our community needs us. Let’s not worry about who is doing what. Let’s roll up our sleeves to get the work done, for everyone.

Originally published on 05/20/2021 by the Calgary Herald.

Rapid Care Counselling quickly connects people to mental health support


COVID-19 has been hard on all of us, but imagine what it’s like when you don’t have a home and are experiencing mental health challenges, all at the same time.

People living without a home or in emergency shelters have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 measures. At the start of February 2021, there were 621 individuals experiencing homelessness, including singles, families, and youth, waiting for housing on Calgary’s triage list. Of these, 78.4 per cent identified mental health challenges or concerns.

“People living without a home are not otherwise okay—invariably, something else is always at play,” says Patricia Jones, President & CEO of Calgary Homeless Foundation.

A new partnership between Calgary Homeless Foundation, Catholic Family Services (CFS), and CUPS (Calgary Urban Project Society) is here to help. Rapid Care Counselling provides rapid access to tailored mental health supports for children, youth, adults, and families in our system of care.

It begins with a CFS team member meeting a participant in a single session to create a care plan that determines the supports they need next. These could include further sessions, connections to a range of community services, or referral into 6- or 12-session counselling with CUPS Shared Care Mental Health counsellors.

This collaboration matches each unique participant’s circumstance and the level of support they need, to get the right help at the right time. Designed to allow participants to connect with a qualified counsellor within just three business days, it provides easy access points that eliminate barriers and connects the client to the program as seamlessly as possible.

The impetus for Rapid Care Counselling arose when our colleagues on the front lines noticed an increase in mental health needs in the homelessness sector early on in the pandemic. We put out an RFP to gauge interest in providing mental health supports, and selected CUPS and CFS to combine forces. The Rapid Care Counselling fills gaps in access to this vital service.

“This pilot means that these individuals can rapidly connect with someone who will tell them they are seen, heard, and that there are people here to help,” says Jones. “This pilot is the first step in connecting the health, housing and homelessness sectors together and start to address the systemic issues contributing to someone’s experience of homelessness.”


“Doris” was a participant in a program that Calgary Homeless Foundation supports. She used substances to help her deal with multiple compounded traumas, and she was also on kidney dialysis. She wanted to overcome her addictions, become eligible for a kidney transplant, and be there to support her children and grandchildren.

Unfortunately, her need for multiple hospital visits every week for dialysis made her ineligible for addiction treatment programs. Program staff worked hard to schedule mental health appointments as long as they did not conflict with her dialysis appointments, but they were inconsistent, and Doris was unable to overcome her addictions.

A program like Rapid Care Counselling could have helped Doris by providing consistent supports that fit with her dialysis schedule. It could have helped her to process her grief and loss in a different way and potentially reduce her need for substances to help escape her trauma. It may or may not have saved her life—but it would have made the end of her life easier.

Musical duo donates t-shirt sales



Misgana and Ans own a local clothing company, and have direct a portion of their sales to Calgary Homeless Foundation.

At Calgary Homeless Foundation, we’re inspired by you – our community donors – and we’re always eager to know why you connect to our work and how you learned about us. That’s why when we received a large donation from a new donor at the beginning of February, we just had to find out more about their story.

Misgana – who goes by Mizzy – and Ans own a clothing brand, originally founded to sell merchandise to accompany their music. Like their music, their clothing is an expression of their creativity. To eliminate profit as a motivator when creating a new design, they decided to direct all proceeds from the sale of a t-shirt to Calgary Homeless Foundation.

“We just wanted to do something really creative and make something unique,” says Mizzy. “Making a fundraiser just allowed us to forget about profit and focus on the creativity.”

Mizzy screen-printed nearly 100 shirts in his bedroom before launching the design on the duo’s website. They approached several local businesses, who featured the design in their storefronts. Within a few days, the design had sold out.

“I’m not originally from Calgary, but every time I came here, everyone told me how cold it was,” explains Ans. “When you’re driving around, and you see people on the streets, you’re always wondering how they get by. We wished we could all do something, so we chose to direct the proceeds towards homelessness.”

“We’re at a place where we can pay our bills, but it wasn’t always like that,” adds Mizzy. “I think when you get to a place like that, you shouldn’t forget people who don’t have as much as you. It’s better for your heart, and when you go out of your way to help someone else, it lifts everyone up. The whole place gets better.”

Ans and Mizzy appreciated the opportunity to use their passion to benefit the community. The campaign also expanded their skillset. They learned how to manage the high product volume, and as the t-shirts began to sell, they were encouraged by the local support. They found their customer base got excited about the t-shirt design and felt good about contributing to a local cause.

“Everyone wishes they could get to a place in their life where they can help people. The truth is, that’s not how it works” says Ans.

“You don’t have to be making a specific amount or be in a certain spot to take care of people. If you are helping one person, you never know how that will impact others.”