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.


We planted flowers yesterday. We raked the lawn, tidied the hedges, swept the walk and laughed and joked and connected as a team and a community.

We were at one of the buildings owned by the CHF to help out with spring cleaning. It was fun and fulfilling and, a nice break from ‘the office’.

And when we finished, we went to a local pub for a late lunch. We laughed and joked and shared in the harmony of having spent some time outside working together.

A year ago, this was a problem location. The neighbours were up in arms. A group of citizens were banding together calling for the shutting down of the Foundation’s housing first program in their neighbourhood.

We had meetings and talks and emails and phone calls. We worked together; the agency that manages the programming in the building and works with the tenants, all of whom have long-term lived experience of homelessness; the police who respond to calls and were concerned by the high level of calls to the building; and the citizen group that was looking for action. We worked with the community, the businesses in the area and the Alderman’s office to find a path to common ground, to that place where the label ‘homeless’ doesn’t equal ‘criminal’, undesirable or any host of other names we throw at people whose lives we do not understand and whose condition often scares us.

This was our second year of planting flowers and gardening at the building. No one came out to help last year. No one came out to chat.

Yesterday, one of the tenants came out and helped us garden.

Yesterday, a woman sat on the front steps and shared snippets of her journey.

Yesterday, a woman chatted from her balcony and told us how pretty the flowers looked. Another man chatted from his balcony and eventually came down to chat some more and have his picture taken. He even asked if he could have a pot of flowers for his balcony.

And as I was leaving, another man called out to me from behind his screen door. “Didn’t you use to work at a shelter?” he asked.

“I did,” I told him.

“I remember you,” he said. And then he shared what it was like to be housed. To have a home. To have a place to call his own. “It’s hard,” he said. “I don’t always remember how to be here.” and then he laughed. A shy, quiet laugh. There was no nervousness in his laugh. No trying to hide some unnamed discomfort. It was an honest commentary on his situation. “It sure is better than where I was,” he added.

And yesterday, at lunch at the local pub, I chatted with the manager with whom the agency from the building and I had met a year ago to talk about his concerns about the building and its tenants. “It’s been quiet since we met,” he said. “The agency has done a fantastic job of dealing with our issues.”

It is always the challenge of this work. Our perceptions. Our fears. Our misconceptions interfere with seeing there is a path to common ground. There is a way to live together in harmony. It may not be ‘normal’, but it can be better than living on separate sides of the equation, fighting each other for our right to stand our ground.

We say, not in my backyard, in the hopes that by declaring our sacred ground, we will not have to step across the line to see the view from someone else’s perspective. We hope that by holding onto our fears, we will not have to drop our guard to acknowledge that we each have a right to find our way home, no matter our condition.

To find common ground, we must let down our guard.

Yesterday, I worked alongside my team on the ground around a building that is home to several formerly homeless Calgarians.

It was a good day for community building.

On Thursday, October 31, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino visited with Alpha House staff, CHF staff and residents of The Madison, a 16 unit apartment building in Calgary which the Calgary Homeless Foundation purchased in November 2011 using provincial grants, support from a donor and a $734,000 mortgage of which $554,000 remains.

The 15 residents of the Madison are formerly homeless veterans who are provided housing and support through program operators, Alpha House Society. The program funding is provided from a two year national pilot project funded federally by the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta. The pilot project ends in March, 2014.

In addition to the Madison pilot project, an additional 38 formerly homeless veterans are supported through Housing First initiatives throughout the city.

Ending homelessness amongst veterans is possible. As one of the residents described it, being provided housing with supports gives him ‘a second chance’. We continue to work with the Federal and Provincial governments and our agency partners to ensure every homeless veteran has a chance at a second chance.

Thank you Minister Fantino for taking the time to visit. Thank you Peter for opening your home to the Minister.

To view all the photos please visit our Facebook Page — and don’t forget to LIKE it!  Thanks!

To learn more about the Madison and the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness as well as our progress towards ending homelessness in Calgary, please see our Annual Report.