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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

Provincial count drops 31% since 2008 in 2nd 7 cities Point-in-Time Count of Homelessness

In the second biennual province-wide Point-in-Time Count of Homelessness (Count), the number of people in Alberta staying in emergency shelters, short term supportive housing and hotels used as emergency shelters as well as correctional facilities was 5373, down 19% from the previous Count in October 2014 and 31% from 2008 when Alberta’s Plan to End Homelessness was launched.

In Calgary, the total Count was 3222, an almost 11% decrease from its peak in 2008 when Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness (Calgary’s Plan) was launched. Calgary’s Count includes data collected by over 100 volunteers on the streets conducting surveys of those they encountered. This report does not include Alberta Health Services (AHS) data and observational tallies by volunteers of those they counted as homeless but were unable to survey. The Final Report, to be released in early 2017, will include more comprehensive demographic data as well as numbers from AHS.

Year-over-year growth in homelessness stopped

Prior to 2008, when Calgary’s Plan was launched, the city was experiencing a biennial increase in homelessness of 35%. Since 2008, over 8,000 people have been housed, growth in homelessness has halted and is on a downward trend. This year’s count shows a decline in overall homelessness on a per capita basis of 26% since 2008.

“Calgary has done what no other urban city has- reversed our past trend of increasing homelessness by 35% every two years to an astounding decline of 9% this year,” says Krecsy. “Calgary’s Plan is working because of local sector leadership, continued rigor, focus and collaboration. But make no mistake, Calgary remains in harm’s way. We need greater systems integration  between Health, Alberta Health Services and Justice with the Homeless Serving System and enhanced community based supports for our cities most vulnerable (health, mental health, addictions, affordable housing).”

Calgary remains epicentre of homelessness in province

As in the 2014 Count, Calgary continues to be the epicentre of homelessness in the province. Whereas the 2014 Count showed Calgary accounting for 54% of the total Provincial Count, this year’s Count shows Calgary represents 60% of the total provincial Count of 5373. “The good news is, homelessness is down across the province,” says Diana Krecsy, President and CEO, the Calgary Homeless Foundation. “What we are doing is working. The challenge is, in spite of continued progress throughout the homeless-serving sector, Calgary continues to not have enough appropriate housing for its vulnerable citizens.”

Calgary’s position as the epicentre is attributable to socio-economic factors unique to Calgary, primarily, one of Canada’s highest unemployment rates for a major urban centre (10.2%) and continued high cost of rental housing despite increased vacancy rates, particularly for those with lower incomes. “Calgary does a great job of serving people experiencing homelessness and with providing a strong network of services and supports to move people quickly into appropriate housing at the right time,” says Krecsy. “But it’s not enough for the number of people who continue to need our support because of economic factors over which they have no control.”

Second province-wide Count shows strength of coordinated approach to ending homelessness.

The province-wide Count dropped by 19.2% from 2014 to 2016. Since 2008 this represents a 31% decrease in homelessness across the province and a decrease of approximately 11% in Calgary since Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness was launched in 2008.

The Count was coordinated by the 7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness in Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer, and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. The 7 Cities represent the lead organizations responsible for the implementation of local Plans to End Homelessness within each city. They coordinate at a systems level and align funding resources for greater impact and progress towards a shared vision of ending homelessness in Alberta.

In the first province-wide Count, 7 Cities members conducted their individual Counts over a week long period. This year’s Count was held on the same evening, October 19th, between 7pm to midnight in all 7 Cities with some cities counting on the morning of October 20th as necessary.

The Count serves two important functions: it provides a current snapshot of the demographics and number of people experiencing homelessness in the province as well as individual cities, and provides a snapshot of changes in homelessness over time. By aligning methods across Alberta, the 7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness can examine trends using similar definitions. Ultimately, this helps to inform solutions, policies and best practices to support the goal of ending homelessness in Alberta.

A Snapshot of Calgary’s Count

A total of 3,222 people were enumerated on the night of the count. Preliminary results show:

  • Unsheltered 5%
  • Emergency Sheltered 45%
  • Justice System 6%
  • Interim Housing & Other (ie. hotels/motels used as emergency shelter/short-term housing) 44%
  • 75% male; 25% female
  • Indigenous 20%; Non-indigenous 80%
  • 45 years of age and over 44%
  • 25-44 years of age 36%
  • 24 years of age and under 20%

In addition to the numbers reported in this document, Calgary counts individuals encountered outside who are not able to give consent to volunteers to complete surveys as part of the Count. This requires volunteer teams to use their discretion as to who is, or is not, homeless. We also collect data from emergency and inpatient services at Calgary facilities. These numbers were not complete at time of this preliminary report and will be included in a forthcoming final report in early 2017.

The Provincial Preliminary Report can be viewed HERE.

All 7 Cities Reports can be viewed HERE.

Calgary’s report can be viewed HERE.

Last week we met with the CHF, Client Action Committee to draft a response letter outlining recommendations for the National Housing Strategy.

Please take a few moments to read what this talented group of individuals submitted, and make your voice heard too!

You have until Friday, October 21st to participate in either an online survey or draft a submission to Letstalkhousing.ca. We encourage you to send an e-mail to your MP, or a tweet using #housing4all and #LetsTalkHousing, along with a copy of CHF’s response, expressing your support for CHF’s recommendations.

Thank you to United Way and Maytree for sharing the Let’s Talk Housing Community Conversations guide that helped our discussion!

Our Position on the National Housing Strategy

 

The Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) supports a National Housing Strategy and is grateful for the opportunity to provide input. We strongly believe that for the Strategy to be an effective tool to further the vision of ending homelessness, it needs to provide specific measures to address the specialized needs for housing with supports for vulnerable and homeless citizens, including Indigenous peoples.

The development of a National Housing Strategy will have a positive and lasting impact on our collective vision of ending homelessness in Calgary. As a community, Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness: People First in Housing First, identifies the need to address the current gap for 15,600 Calgarian households in extreme core housing need. We are pleased the government is taking action. We encourage our community partners to join the conversation share this with your social networks and participate in the survey and/or submit a written response by October 21, 2016. For more information please see our six recommendations for inclusion into the National Housing Strategy and our Key Supporting Statistics.

A highlight of our recommendations are listed below:

CHF supports a National Housing Strategy that will deliver safe, suitable and secure housing to every Canadian.

  • All Canadians deserve a decent place to live.
  • Canada is significantly behind in comparison to other OECD countries in providing social housing.
  • The National Housing Strategy (Strategy) should protect, preserve and improve existing low-income/social housing stock and build capacity in the non-profit housing sector to deepen financial sustainability, asset management and renewal.
  • Provide tax incentives for the creation of new rental stock.
  • The Strategy needs to guarantee access to affordable housing appropriate for low income, vulnerable populations and Indigenous Peoples, especially in major urban centres where evidence shows greater prevalence of homelessness.

A National Housing Strategy must specifically address the specialized needs of Canadians experiencing homelessness and strengthen the vision of ending homelessness in Canada.

  • The Strategy must link housing for Canadians exiting homelessness with the adequate and appropriate supports required for this population to remain stably housed and integrated into community.
  • Studies show that there are significant cost savings associated with the provision of housing with supports for people experiencing homelessness.
  • Funding for programs that provide housing first supports specific to Canadians experiencing homelessness, should be increased to provide real and possible advancement towards ending homelessness.
  • The Strategy must safeguard the economic, social and cultural rights of vulnerable populations, including Indigenous Peoples.
  • The Strategy needs to address the gap for the over 1.5 million Canadian households in core housing need.
    • There are approximately 15,600 households in Calgary in extreme core housing need.

Public Social Expenditure must increase to ensure cycles of poverty and homelessness are not repeated, especially for vulnerable Canadians.

  • Greater public social expenditure on anti-poverty initiatives, including housing and income assistance can strengthen Canada’s social welfare system and help prevent and reduce homelessness.

Please take 10 minutes to fill out the survey, share this with your social networks and encourage everyone to include their voice in the conversation.  The online survey is open to the public until October 21, 2016. More details can be found HERE.

To view our six recommendations for inclusion into the National Housing Policy, click here to download our brief.

Click here to read a blog post written by Calgary Homeless Foundation’s Director of Research and Data, Nick Falvo, on ten things to know about Canada and our National Housing Strategy.

A Call for Feedback

To identify gaps in affordability and accessibility of housing in the province, the Government of Alberta is asking Albertans to provide feedback that will assist in the development of a Provincial Affordable Housing Strategy.

Every Albertan is encouraged to respond to the survey. Your input will help inform the development of the Strategy and will make a difference.

The survey provides the opportunity to respond as individuals and as organizations. We encourage everyone to respond, and to ensure you submit an organizational response too.

At the back of the survey are three non-multiple choice questions pertaining to what you/your organization see as the issues related to affordable housing, what’s working well in the affordable housing system and what you could change. CHF has answered these questions through the lens of our role as System Planner for the homeless-serving sector. Our responses include:

Issues specific to homeless serving sector

  • Lack of access to affordable housing impedes progress on addressing the specialized needs of Calgary’s most vulnerable who need permanent housing with supports.
  • Lack of matching program dollars to capital dollars creates uncertainty in ability to provide long-term, sustained supports that result in housing retention.
  • Gaps in rental costs and income support puts increased pressure on not-for-profits and clients.

Working well

  • The focus on the need for housing strategies on the municipal, provincial and federal level.
  • Recent funding announcements by the provincial and federal governments to address the gaps in affordable housing.
  • Government endorsement of plans to end homelessness and address poverty, as well as the implementation of integrative social policies to better serve vulnerable Albertans.

Changes

  • Address adequate and appropriate supply of permanent housing with supports for specialized and vulnerable populations served by the homeless sector.
  • Increase income assistance to assist those exiting homelessness and to support the 15,600 Calgarian households at risk of homelessness and in extreme core housing need.
  • Address client choice through housing allowance rather than unit subsidies.
  • Allow non-market housing providers to set realistic rents to fund capital reserves to maintain properties independent of government funding; this allows providers to create value and potential leverage from their stock.
  • Develop meaningful incentive programs to encourage private sector development of new rental stock.
  • Make land available for housing projects for specialized populations and transfer ownership of government assets to qualified not-for-profit housing providers so that assets may be leveraged and managed more effectively and efficiently to enhance the sector’s ability to meet current and future demand.

We are pleased that the provincial government has taken this opportunity to engage Albertans in this important conversation. Please take 10 minutes to fill out the survey, share this with your social networks and encourage everyone to include their voice in the conversation.  The survey can be found HERE.  The online survey is open to the public until July 3, 2016.

Together, we will end homelessness in Calgary.

 

Minister of Housing and Seniors, Lori Sigurdson provides an overview of the Strategy and the engagement process.

 

It’s always good when Members of Parliament invest their time and energy to learn first-hand what Calgary is doing to end homelessness. On Saturday, July 12th, Tom Mulcair, Leader of Canada’s New Democrats and the Official Opposition, took a tour of three housing first locations owned by the Calgary Homeless Foundation.

Karen Crowther, Executive Director of Keys to Recovery, provided Mr. Mulcair an overview of the work her agency does to end homelessness for individuals leaving addictions treatment who, without Keys, would be released from a recovery program back to homelessness. “It’s hard to maintain your hard-won sobriety in a shelter environment,” said Ms Crowther. “There are so many opportunities to slip, which is why it’s so important we provide housing and supports.”

Karen shared their findings of the impact of housing on 9 of their clients after one year of being housed. Keys determined that based on the decrease in hospital stays, shelter costs, EMS, Fire and police interactions as well as incarcerations and ER visits, $810,445 in savings were realized. Without housing and Keys interventions, the nine individuals studied accounted for $1,023,618 in systems useage costs versus $213,173 after one year of housing.

Kelly, a long term resident with Keys, shared his story of addiction which began at the age of 9 and ended when he finally got housing with Keys 2 years ago.

From the Keys managed apartment building in Cliff Bungalow, Mr. Mulcair and his aide, George Smith, toured two Alpha House locations, The Madison, a 15 unit apartment building for Veterans with lived experience of homelessness, and Sunalta, a 33 unit single room occupancy low-barrier apartment building for singles. When asked what Mr. Mulcair can do to support the work over ending homelessness, Kathy Christiansen, Executive Director of Alpha House was quick to reply, “I have two words. Affordable Housing. We need a national strategy because without the housing, we can’t move people out of homelessness. It is critical.”

Mr. Mulcair promised to take the message back to Ottawa, not just about the need for Affordable Housing but also around the amazing work CHF and its agency partners are doing to end homelessness here in Calgary. With six years of experience, data and research, we are leaders in Canada.