By Nick Falvo, Ph.D, Director, Research and Data, Calgary Homeless Foundation

A recent news article serves as a reminder of the crucial role that can be played by the federal government in ending homelessness.  The article in question discusses a scenario in which a Calgary man who’d been living for five years at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre was finally able to access permanent housing once he turned 65.  According to the article, reaching the age of 65 meant that the man was “now eligible for Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement, and that helped him secure a spot in the Calgary Drop-In’s affordable apartments.”

Indeed, reaching age 65 in Canada generally means a substantial ‘pay raise’ for social assistance recipients, and that’s the topic of a recent study I co-authored that was published by How Ottawa Spends, an annual publication of Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration.  The study’s other co-authors were Allan Moscovitch and David Macdonald.

The study argues—among other things—that if the age of eligibility for Old Age Security were to move from 65 to 67 (a policy which the former federal government had announced, but that the current federal government has since reversed course on) the percentage of Canadians aged 65 and 66 living in poverty would see a very substantial rise.  In the study, we estimate the rise in poverty with the help of Statistics Canada’s Social Policy Simulation Database and Model.

A lengthy blog post which provides a good summary of the study can be found here.  The study itself can be found here.


The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the Calgary Homeless Foundation.

To be involved with an Organization such as Vibrant Communities Calgary and the Enough for All Strategy’ has meant many things on many levels to me both in a personal level and in a professional capacity.

I have lived in Poverty for many years and at that time I did not realize the implications of what that meant on the overall Community until I became Homeless. I studied and had conversations with my many peers and colleagues and became involved in Community Engagement.  It was then I realized the deep implications that Poverty can have on individuals, families and Calgary.  When I was invited to join Poverty Talks! and learned more about the E4A strategy, I soon came to the conclusion that Poverty affects many walks of life in many different capacities.

I have attended many events in the Community relating to Poverty.

  • Many Voices: Conversations about Poverty
  • Soul of the City 14: Poverty, Perspective and the Opportunity
  • The Sliding Scale Proposal to the City of Calgary Standing Policy Committee
  • The Payday Lending Proposal to Calgary City Council regarding a Bylaw for Payday Lenders not to gain a Business License within 400 metres from other Lenders operating in the same City Block
  • Community Conversations: Basic Needs regarding Goal 3 from the E4A
  • Payday Lending and Financial Inclusion Task Force with the City of Calgary

I have also participated and worked with the Client Action Committee of the Calgary Homeless Foundation.

  • The Longest Night of the Year – The first Celebration of Life and Memorial for those in our Community who have passed while Homeless and/or living on the Streets. Interviewed with Global Calgary in regards to this event
  • The Homeless Vote – Mock Election for the Homeless in Calgary to exercise their voice in the October Federal election. With the initiative, the first ever Polling Station was set-up in a Homeless Shelter in Canada
  • I have been selected as a Keynote Speaker at the upcoming 7 cities Conference on Housing First and Homelessness in May of 2016

I also served on the Payday Lending and Financial Inclusion Task Force mandated by the Mayor and City Council.

  1. Work with other levels of governments, agencies and organizations to develop recommendations to protect financially vulnerable from payday lending practices
  2. Influence financial institutions to re-engage low income earners with the ability to access short term small loans, and financial counselling

There are 12 people on the task force including 3 credit unions, VCC, Momentum, Sunrise Community Link, CUPS as well as someone who represents the payday lenders. The challenge was to find some common ground and develop recommendations that will help people who find themselves in need of short term, small loans.  This work is vitally important to Calgary so all in our Community can have a greater Quality of Life for ourselves, our children and Grandchildren.

As of last year in the spring, I have taken courses in Non Profit Management at Mount Royal University and I am also taking the ‘Working with Homeless Population’ at the University of CalgaryA joint collaboration with the Faculty of Social Work and The Calgary Homeless Foundation.  Shortly I am going to apply to take a Social Work Diploma at Bow Valley College.

The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness is having its fourth annual national conference in November and as such I have applied for a Lived Experienced Scholarship to attend.

In conclusion, I am a driven woman, impassioned by the belief that Homelessness and Poverty will end or at least be significantly reduced in our great City.  I will be there to see this happen.

Favorite Quote:

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one” Mr. Spock – The Wrath of Khan

*Submitted and written by a grateful member of the Client Action Committee.

By:  Nick Falvo, Ph.D., Director, Research and Data, CHF

From time to time, voluntary sector leaders—and advocates in general—come up with ideas for new spending and new social programs.  When they do this, they often focus too much on influencing elected officials, and too little on influencing senior public servants.  What’s more, it’s important that their proposals be supported by good research, in part because exaggerated claims about the benefits of their proposals may hurt them in the end.  With all of this in mind, here are 10 things to know about central agencies in Canada.

  1.  Even after a minister tells you they support your idea, there will often be further government approvals required.[1] At the federal level, this process is run by three central agencies; they are Privy Council Office (PCO), Finance Canada and Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS). Their respective roles will be discussed below. There are broadly similar functions for provincial and territorial governments (but details may vary).
  2.  For your idea to become a new program, cabinet will need to give “policy authority” and PCO supports this cabinet decision-making process. PCO coordinates the meetings of cabinet and cabinet committees, provides advice to the prime minister on cabinet business and briefs the chair of committees on agenda items. During this process, PCO analysts play a “challenge function role” (this will be a recurring theme), meaning they critically assess and examine proposals as they come forward. Questions that might get asked by PCO officials in Ottawa include: Is this an area of federal jurisdiction?  Does this initiative have intergovernmental implications?  Have you consulted on this with other departments within the federal government? (If no such consultation has taken place, PCO officials will coordinate a meeting among staff from various federal departments.)  PCO officials might call into question the rationale or evidence used to support the proposal and if a similar program exists elsewhere, PCO officials will point this out.  PCO will also ensure that the political implications are spelled out.
  3.  Once you have policy authority from cabinet, a new program will still need budgetary approval through Finance if it involves new money. Finance provides funding authority or a “source of funds” for new proposals through the budget process. Departments and Ministers generally make a request to the Minister of Finance and it gets assessed by public servants in the Department of Finance, who also play a challenge function. The underlying question asked by Finance officials is “Does this initiative really require new money?” My sources in Ottawa have three unofficial mottos that Finance officials can almost always be expected to say.  The first is “How much will that cost?” The second is “Why can’t you do that from your existing budgetary allotment?” And the third is “No” (hopefully, the last one is not so consistent).  It’s also important to note that the budget process doesn’t just assess the merit of spending money on your idea on a yes-or-no basis, but also the comparative merit of different proposals. You’re competing against other ideas for scarce resources.  Finance officials are suspicious of lofty promises that a proposal will save large sums of money somewhere else; they hear this often.  If the proposal has the potential to save money elsewhere, be prepared to demonstrate this with precision and nuance.
  4.  Treasury Board, a committee of cabinet, provides implementation authority for proposals and this approval process gets into the details of how the program will be run. Cabinet policy authority is sometimes thought of as “agreement in principle”, while Treasury Board is where the details get discussed. TBS officials play a challenge function that is focused on how the proposal will be implemented rather than challenging the basic idea. They will want to know the risks inherent in the proposed initiative and how they are addressed. They’ll also want to know if the proposal is compliant with other federal policies and they’ll want to know if the details of the proposal are logistically sound and realistic.  For example, if a complex program is proposed with a plan for three staff persons to run it, TBS officials will call this into question.  In Ottawa these days, treasury board officials are also very focused on the measurement of outcomes.
  5.  There is typically some overlap between what the different central agencies do. For example, in Ottawa, PCO officials might ask how results for a new program might be measured (even though that’s more typically thought of as a question asked by TBS officials). Likewise, PCO officials might also scrutinize a cost-benefit analysis that is supporting a pitch (even though similar scrutiny might be provided by finance officials). And the central agencies work closely together.
  6.  At the end of the day, if cabinet really wants a new program or new spending, central agencies won’t stop the initiative. An inherent principle underlying representative, executive government is that ministers are ultimately the decision-makers. Public servants, meanwhile, operate with the principle of “fearless advice, faithful implementation.”
  7.   In Ottawa, even the Minister typically has to wait until Budget Day to know if each proposal has been accepted. That’s because the final decision on every budget item is made between the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister, and their decision is usually kept secret—even from the rest of cabinet—until the budget is released. (In Ottawa, proposals for a new program or new spending are typically made months before.)
  8.  A key take-away from all of this is that, when voluntary sector organizations advocate for a new program or new spending, they should think about both elected officials and senior public servants. Indeed, it’s important to engage senior public servants early and often. If an elected official likes your proposal, do not assume that members of the senior public service won’t eventually give it the third degree.  Ideally, as many senior public servants as possible should hear about your proposal directly from your organization before it arrives to them via official channels.
  9.  New proposals should be supported by sound research. Just because an elected official doesn’t scrutinize your cost-benefit analysis or your long-term savings calculations, doesn’t mean senior public servants won’t. Staff in both central agencies and line departments will appreciate intellectually honest analysis, the humble presentation of information and well-referenced propositions. The challenge function at the central agencies will involve dozens of very smart people reviewing and assessing the proposal; your proposal (sponsored by the department and minister) will stand up much better if it has a strong problem definition (a.k.a. the rationale for why action is needed) and recommendations supported by evidence.
  10.  Exaggerated claims about your proposal will probably burn you in the end. Consider a statement such as: “This proposed program will revolutionize this sector because nothing this great has ever been done before.” That might get you traction in the media and with some elected officials; but always consider the roles of central agencies discussed above. Senior public servants have heard such statements before and will likely scrutinize every aspect of such a claim.

The author wishes to thank Francesco Falvo, Louise Gallagher, Darcy Halber, Kayle Hatt, Alex Himelfarb, Kevin McNichol, Michael Mendelson, Leslie Pal, John Stapleton, Katherine White and one anonymous reviewer for invaluable assistance with this.  Any errors are his.   [Author:  Nick Falvo, Ph.D., Director, Research and Data, Calgary Homeless Foundation]

[1] An important exception is in the case where your idea happens to be within the minister’s existing authority and, more importantly, within the existing department/ministry budget and not especially politically contentious.


CHANGE IN SCHEDULE:  Party with a Purpose is one day only! Tuesday, July 12.

Purchase tickets now

Purchase tickets now

If you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, they are still available on Ticketyfly or at the door.

Tickets are $29, doors open at 7am with a pancake breakfast and the first musical act at 8am.

George Canyon is scheduled for 9am Aaron Pollock at 2:30pm, Ken Swift will be the resident DJ playing throughout the day. The day ends at 5.

Thank you for your support!  We look forward to some down home, country style fun with you!

CHANGE IN SCHEDULE:  Party with a Purpose is one day only! Tuesday, July 12.

Purchase tickets now

Purchase tickets now

CHANGE IN SCHEDULE:  Party with a Purpose is one day only! Tuesday, July 12.

Purchase tickets now

CHANGE IN SCHEDULE:  Party with a Purpose is one day only! Tuesday, July 12.


Last night at the Calgary Residential Rental Association 13th Annual Gala Award, CHF’s Claire building in Kingsland won the Building of the Year (26 – 100 units) award. This award recognizes the upkeep and ongoing operations of the building, renovation we’ve completed, tenant services, community gardens and other special features. In accepting the award, Jacqueline van den Broek of CHF’s Housing Team recognized the tremendous partnership we have with agency partner CUPS and the community building that takes place there through the support of KAIROS. This recognition is a testament to the great integrated housing model we’ve developed here at CHF – congrats, team!

It was an amazing night for affordable housing providers in Calgary – in addition to CHF, Horizon Housing Society and Calgary Housing Company teams were also recognized in the tenant and community service categories.

As well, the Mustard Seed was recognized as an Outstanding Non-Profit in the Affordable Housing category.

Congrats to everyone involved.

Of special note, David McIlveen, a longstanding CHF Director (2005 – 2016) and the Calgary Community Land Trust Chair was the CRRA recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his outstanding service to the housing community in Calgary.

It’s great to see the hard work, dedication and service of people and agencies in the affordable housing/homeless-serving sector recognized through such prestigious awards. 

Thank you to the CRRA for honouring these individuals, teams and organizations.


New Research – Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff, PhD & Annette Lane, PhD: Burnout and PTSD in Workers in the Homeless Sector in Calgary

As Regional President for Alberta and the Territories, Jeff Boyd has overall responsibility for RBC’s Personal & Commercial Banking Businesses in the region.

With RBC for over 20 years, Mr. Boyd has progressed through a variety of positions including senior management roles in both Retail and Commercial Banking and National Sales Strategy.

Mr. Boyd is an active and dedicated community leader, including his involvement on the Board of the National Music Centre, Advisory Boards for The Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at The Haskayne School of Business and the University of Alberta Business School and, most recently, a newly appointed Board Member with the Calgary Homeless Foundation.

A leader who is committed to helping local communities prosper, Jeff is an advocate for the power of communities and the impact caring people can have, particularly regarding the critical social issues Calgary’s most vulnerable populations face. It is for these reasons that Jeff is honoured to serve as a member of the CHF Board and help address the critical shortage of affordable housing in our community.

In a recent interview with Jeff, he shared his passion for his community, his initial introduction to the homeless serving sector and what he hopes to accomplish with the CHF Board over the next year.

What inspired you to begin serving on the CHF Board?

I got exposure to the work of the foundation when RBC made a million dollar gift to the RESOLVE Campaign. Through that, I gained more and more knowledge around the work of the Campaign and really liked the concept of nine organizations all working collaboratively towards that goal of ending homelessness. In our business, it’s all about collaboration. I was introduced to the idea of a Plan to End Homelessness in Calgary. It’s a pretty audacious goal that attracts a lot of attention and I like audacious goals. That, in turn, led me to the Calgary Homeless Foundation where I was asked to be a Board Member.

In light of other potential social issues you could be a part of, what made you choose to put your time into the issue of homelessness?

We’ve got a 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness and it’s an incredible goal.  From my own experience of having a really good, stable home, I know that that’s important for our society to have a solid foundation, a solid home. A lot of stuff starts foundationally with a good home and you can see that when we talk about the Housing First approach. When you start to understand Housing First and the philosophy and the research behind it, you can see all of the direct impacts in has in health, crime prevention, employment, reduced reliance on government. Everything connects back to having a home, having a solid foundation.

What do you hope to see CHF accomplish in the next three years?

I hope to see us accomplish a lot more of the same. There’s a lot going on the community, in the sector in terms of pulling together to achieve our goals. I hope to see CHF continue to deliver more leadership and to keep moving towards finding innovative solutions.

You’ve been a part of multiple boards over the years. What has made you so passionate about volunteering and helping communities prosper?

I would say a good solid upbringing. I was brought up with the value that you give people a hand up when they need it. I’ve been extremely fortunate in my life and with my family and I feel a responsibility to pay it forward. And truly, being a part of something like this, I get more in personal satisfaction than I think that I will ever be able to give. I get a lot more back than I put in.

Par: Nick Falvo, PhD

data imageLe 9 mars, j’ai fait une présentation sur l’itinérance adressée aux étudiants du séminaire d’études supérieures de Madame Susan Phillips à l’Université Carleton. Ceci est un cours obligatoire du programme de Master of Philanthropy and Non-Profit Leadership, et l’un des principaux thèmes du programme est que les organisations à but non lucratif sont confrontées à de fortes attentes pour démontrer leur efficacité. Ainsi, les futurs dirigeants du secteur devront être, à cet égard, à la fois informés et compétents.

On m’a demandé de parler du thème ci-dessus en tant que directeur de la recherche et des données à la Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF). A ce titre, voici 10 choses qu’à mon avis les futurs dirigeants d’organismes à but non lucratif devraient savoir.

  1. En 2008, Calgary est devenue la première ville au Canada à lancer un « plan visant à mettre fin à l’itinérance ». Le plan de Calgary a été basé sur un modèle utilisé dans plus de 300 communautés aux États-Unis. Aujourd’hui, plus d’une douzaine de villes canadiennes ont un tel plan. En outre, depuis 2008, sur une base par habitant, l’itinérance (selon le dernier dénombrement de la population itinérante) a diminué à Calgary de 17%.
  1. Le Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) de Calgary est peut- être le plus sophistiqué du genre au Canada. Lorsque Calgary a élaboré son plan, il a décidé de développer également un système de gestion de l’information qui, entre autres choses, pourrait l’aider à en suivre les progrès. En effet — comme je l’ai écrit l’automne dernier — beaucoup d’organisations qui s’occupent des sans-abri de Calgary déposent les informations de leurs clients dans une base de données appelée HMIS. Aujourd’hui, tous les programmes à but non lucratif à Calgary qui reçoivent des fonds de la CHF doivent utiliser le HMIS (c’est stipulé dans leur contrat); et certains organismes non- financés par la CHF l’utilisent volontairement pour certains de leurs programmes.
  1. Le développement et la mise en œuvre du système HMIS de Calgary ont été guidés par plusieurs comités communautaires. Pendant plusieurs années, un comité consultatif HMIS — composé d’employés des organismes à but non lucratif et de clients du secteur — se réunissait pour vérifier la préoccupation « big brother » crée par l’introduction du système, et pour y répondre. Les représentants des clients — assurés que la police n’aurait pas accès aux dossiers des clients — faisaient partie du processus de prise de décision. Il y avait aussi (et il y a encore) un groupe d’utilisateurs de HMIS, assisté par le personnel, qui utilise le système; ce groupe se réunit sur une base ad hoc pour discuter de questions plus techniques, telles que la mise à jour du système de base de données, les cycles de rapports, et questions analogues. (Ses réunions étaient plus fréquentes dans les premiers jours du système qu’aujourd’hui). Enfin, maintenant que le système est « en marche » depuis un certain temps, la CHF convoque de petits comités sur une base ad hoc pour mieux se guider dans ses initiatives spécifiques.
  1. Un succès important du HMIS de Calgary a été son apport au système de références aux programmes. Beaucoup (mais pas tous) des sans-abri de Calgary passent par un processus d’admission assuré par le Service Prioritization Decision Assessment Tool (SPDAT). Le SPDAT donne au client « an acuity score » (une note d’acuité), ce qui facilite son entrée dans les programmes de logement financés par la CHF (Les informations recueillies au cours du processus du SPDAT sont déposées dans le HMIS). Dans le cadre des objectifs fixés dans le plan visant à mettre fin à l’itinérance à Calgary, les clients avec la note plus élevée du SPDAT reçoivent souvent prioriorité dans l’attribution des logements financés par CHF. Les comités se réunissent régulièrement afin de recommander les clients qui seront placés dans le nombre limité de logements subventionnés disponibles.[1] Le nom officiel pour l’ensemble de ce processus est Coordinated Access & Assessment (CAA). (Pour en savoir plus sur le système CAA de Calgary, voir ce chapitre de livre récent de Jerilyn Dressler.)
  1. Certains organismes sans but lucratif ont été heureux de partager leurs données avec la CHF, ce qui n’était pas le cas pour d’autres. Dans mon expérience, avant qu’un organisme à but non lucratif consente à partager ses données volontairement avec la CHF, il tient à savoir pour quoi exactement les données seront utilisées et de quelle façon il pourra bénéficier du partage. Jusqu’ à ce que l’organisme voie comment le partage des données pourra bénéficier son organisation et sa clientèle, il est réticent à partager (à moins qu’il soit conseillé de le faire par son bailleur de fonds). Les organisations telles que la CHF doivent établir confiance avec d’autres organismes sans but lucratif et démontrer comment le partage de données peut être mutuellement bénéfique — plutôt que considérer la réception de données comme un droit.
  1. Chaque année la CHF décaisse des fonds à des organismes à but non lucratif basés à Calgary; pour surveiller résultats et impact, il les compare par rapport aux indicateurs clefs de performance (ICP). Différents programmes ont des objectifs différents—par exemple, les indicateurs développés pour certains programmes mettent l’accent sur l’efficacité de ces programmes dans la création de situations de logement stables pour leurs locataires. En utilisant les indicateurs, le personnel de la CHF, dans le suivi des progrès de chaque organisme financé, en utilisant les indicateurs, est en mesure de suivre les progrès grâce au système de base de données HMIS. La CHF prend ensuite des décisions annuelles de financement fondées en partie sur la performance de chaque programme financé par rapport aux indicateurs.
  1. Le système HMIS de Calgary offre un soutien inestimable au système d’évaluation susmentionné. En effet, cela a été l’un des grands succès du système HMIS de Calgary. C’est à travers le système HMIS que les données de « performance du programme » sont recueillies pour les programmes financés par le CHF.
  1. Un inconvénient des données HMIS est que la plupart de ses données sur les clients est basée sur l’auto-déclaration. Toutefois, il convient de noter que l’information auto-déclarée est recueillie par un gestionnaire de cas expérimenté au cours d’une entrevue en personne. De plus, au Canada, de nombreuses sources de données bien respectées sont également basées sur l’auto-déclaration—celles-ci comprennent l’Enquête sur la population active et le recensement. À l’avenir, les chercheurs de la CHF aimeraient comparer des données du HMIS auto-déclarées avec les données administratives des systèmes de santé et des systèmes de justice, afin de comparer les informations sur le même individu. (Un tel exercice de recherche exigerait évidemment le consentement du client, ainsi que la coopération des autorités de la santé et de la justice.)
  1. Le principal succès du Plan to End Homelessness à Calgary a été, à mon avis, la galvanization de l’attention publique et l’arrêt de la hausse de l’itinérance. Lorsque le plan original a été développé en 2008, Calgary avait connu une augmentation de 650% des sans-abri en seulement 10 ans. Et, comme il est indiqué ci-dessus, Calgary a connu, depuis la création du plan initial, une baisse de 17% des sans-abri par habitant. Personnellement, je considère ceci un accomplissement très impressionnant; en effet, il y a peu de doute dans mon esprit que c’est en grande partie grâce à ce plan que nombre de gens sont encore vivants. Rétrospectivement, éliminer l’itinérance avant 2018 (tel était l’objectif des cráteurs du plan) était un objectif très ambitieux.
  1. Mon principal conseil aux dirigeants des organismes sans but lucratif est d’être humble avec les données. Par cela, je veux dire qu’ils ne devraient pas essayer de ‘sur’interpreter les données. L’honnêteté et la prudence veulent qu’on reconnaisse les limites et de ses données et de l’analyse statistique qu’on entreprend en utilisant ces données. On doit également être franc quant aux hypothèses qu’on fait dans les projections à long terme. En cas de doute, on doit demander conseil à des chercheurs plus expérimentés. Bien qu’il puisse être tentant d’exagérer parfois ses connaissances et son aptitude à faire des prévisions, il faut se rappeler que cela va retourner sur son auteur, ou — comment dissent les Anglais — “ chickens eventually come home to roost ”. Et, cela dit, je rappelle aux lecteurs du blog ce que le regretté John Kenneth Galbraith a dit à propos des prévisions économiques: «Il y a deux sortes de prévisionnistes: ceux qui ne savent pas, et ceux qui ne savent pas qu’ils ne savent pas.”

[1] Malgré son utilisation sophistiquée des données, Calgary a encore beaucoup plus de sans-abri qu’elle a unités de logement subventionné disponibles. Ainsi, à cause du manque de logements abordables, des personnes sans domicile attendent parfois des années avant de recevoir un logement; d’autres meurent avant. C’est une grande raison pour laquelle la CHF souscrit à cette récente déclaration; elle continue de faire pression sur tous les niveaux de gouvernement pour plus de fonds.

Nick Falvo est Director of Research & Data à la Calgary Homeless Foundation. Son domaine de recherche est la politique sociale, avec accent sur la pauvreté, le logement, l’itinérance et l’aide sociale. Nick a un doctorat en politique publique de l’Université Carleton. Parfaitement bilingue, il est membre du comité de rédaction de la Canadian Review of Social Policy / Revue canadienne de politique sociale. Contactez-­le au Suivez-‐le sur Twitter: @nicholas_falvo.”

Version Anglaise: Using Data to End Homelessness in Calgary 

Les personnes suivantes m’ont aidé à préparer le présent blogue: Britany Ardelli, Janice Chan, Francesco Falvo, Louise Gallagher, Darcy Halber, Chantal Hansen, Ron Kneebone, Ali Jadidzadeh, Jennifer Legate, Kevin McNichol, Natalie Noble, John Rowland et Kelsey Shea. Toutes les erreurs sont les miennes.

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By  Nick Falvo, PhD

On March 9, I spoke on a panel in Professor Susan PhillipsPolicy and Program Evaluation course at Carleton University.  This is a required course in Carleton’s Master of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership program, and one of the program’s main themes is that non-profit organizations face strong expectations to demonstrate their effectiveness.  Thus, future leaders in the sector will need to be both knowledgeable and competent in this regard.


I was asked to speak to the above theme from the vantage point of my role as Director of Research & Data at the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF).  With this in mind, here are 10 things future non-profit leaders should know.

  1. In 2008, Calgary became the first city in Canada to launch a plan to “end homelessness.” Calgary’s plan was based on a model used in more than 300 communities in the United States. Today, more than one dozen Canadian cities have such a plan. Also since 2008, on a per capita basis, homelessness (as measured by Point-in-Time counts) has decreased in Calgary by 17%.
  1. Calgary’s Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) may be the most sophisticated of its kind in Canada. When Calgary developed its plan, it decided to also develop an information management system that, among other things, could help it track progress. Indeed, last fall, I wrote that many of Calgary’s homeless-serving organizations enter client information into a database called HMIS.  Today, all Calgary non-profit programs that receive funding from the CHF must use the HMIS (it’s stipulated in their contracts); and some non-funded agencies voluntarily use the HMIS system for some of their programs.
  1. The development and implementation of Calgary’s HMIS system has been guided by several community committees. For several years, an HMIS Advisory Committee met to test the ‘big brother’ concern about the system. The Committee consisted of both staff from homeless-serving agencies and clients from the sector. Along with addressing privacy concerns, clients were part of the decision-making process (and were assured that the police would not have access to client records). There was also (and still is) an HMIS User Group attended by staff who use the HMIS system—that group meets on an ad hoc basis to discuss more technical matters, such as updates to the database system, reporting cycles and ‘how to’ matters (it met more frequently in the early days of the system than it does today).  Finally, now that the system has been ‘up and running’ for some time, the CHF still convenes smaller committees on an ad hoc basis to help guide specific initiatives.
  1. An important success of Calgary’s HMIS system has been its assistance with program referrals. Many (but not all) homeless persons in Calgary go through an intake process with the help of the Service Prioritization Decision Assessment Tool (SPDAT). The SPDAT gives the client an acuity score, which assists with their placement into CHF-funded housing programs (information gathered during the SPDAT process is entered into the HMIS system).  Based on the goals set out in Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness, clients with higher SPDAT scores are often given higher priority for placement into CHF-funded housing.  Committees meet on a regular basis to recommend which clients be placed into the limited amount of subsidized housing available.[1] The formal name for this entire process is called Coordinated Access & Assessment (CAA). (For more on Calgary’s CAA system, see this recent book chapter by Jerilyn Dressler.)
  1. Some non-profit organizations have been happy to share their data with CHF; others less so. In my experience, before a non-profit shares data voluntarily with CHF, they like to know what exactly the data will be used for and how they may benefit from sharing their data. Until they see how the sharing of data can benefit their organization and its clientele, they’re reluctant to share (unless they’re mandated to do so by their funder).  Organizations such as the CHF need to therefore work hard to build trust with other non-profits and demonstrate how data sharing can be mutually beneficial, rather than simply thinking of receiving data as an entitlement.
  1. CHF disburses funding to Calgary-based non-profits in the homeless-serving sector each year; to monitor their outcomes and impact, it benchmarks them against key performance indicators (KPIs). Different programs have different objectives—for example, KPIs developed for some programs put emphasis on how effective those programs appear to be in creating stable housing situations for their tenants. CHF staff, in monitoring each funded agency’s progress on KPIs, is able to track progress thanks to the aforementioned HMIS database system.  CHF then makes annual funding decisions based in part on each funded program’s performance against KPIs. 
  1. Calgary’s HMIS system provides invaluable support to the aforementioned benchmarking system. Indeed, this has been one of the major successes of Calgary’s HMIS system. It’s through the HMIS system that ‘program performance’ data is gathered from CHF-funded programs.
  1. One drawback of HMIS data is that most of its client data is based on self-reporting. However, it should be noted that self-reported information is gathered by an experienced case manager during an in-person interview.  What’s more, many well-respected data sources in Canada are also based on self-reporting; these include the Labour Force Survey and the Census.  In future, CHF researchers would like to cross-reference self-reported HMIS data with administrative data from health systems and justice systems, in order to compare information on the same individual. (Such a research exercise would obviously require client consent, as well as cooperation from health and justice authorities.) 
  1. I think the main success of Calgary’s initial Plan to End Homelessness was that it helped galvanize public attention and stopped homelessness from rising. When the original Plan was developed in 2008, Calgary had experienced a 650% increase in homelessness over just a 10-year period. And as indicated above, Calgary has since seen a 17% drop in per-capita homelessness since the original Plan was unveiled.  I personally consider that to be a very impressive accomplishment; indeed, there is little doubt in my mind that there are people alive today thanks largely to that Plan.  In retrospect, eliminating homelessness by 2018 (a key goal of he original plan) was a very ambitious target.
  1. My main piece of advice to third-sector (i.e. non-profit) leaders is to be humble with data. By that, I mean they shouldn’t try to ‘over interpret’ data.  Non-profit leaders need to be honest about the limitations of both their data and the statistical analysis they undertake using that data.  They should also be forthright about assumptions they make in long-term projections.  When in doubt, they should seek guidance from more senior researchers.  Though it may be tempting to exaggerate one’s knowledge and foresight at times, remember that chickens eventually come home to roost.  And with that in mind, I’ll remind blog readers what the late John Kenneth Galbraith once said about economic forecasters: “There are two kinds of forecasters: those who don’t know, and those who don’t know they don’t know.”

[1] Even with Calgary’s sophisticated use of data, the city still has far more homeless people in need of housing than it has subsidized housing units available.  Thus, due to a lack of affordable housing, some people experiencing homelessness can wait years to be placed into housing; others die while on the waiting list.  That’s a big reason why the CHF endorses this recent policy statement and continues to lobby all levels of government for more funding.

Nick Falvo is Director of Research and Data at the Calgary Homeless Foundation. His area of research is social policy, with a focus on poverty, housing, homelessness and social assistance. Nick has a PhD in public policy from Carleton University. Fluently bilingual, he is a member of the editorial board of the Canadian Review of Social Policy / Revue canadienne de politique sociale.  Contact him at Follow him on Twitter: @nicholas_falvo.

Version française: L’ Utilisation de données dans le programme visant à mettre fin à l’itinérance à Calgary

The following individuals were very helpful in the preparation of this blog post:  Britany Ardelli, Janice Chan, Francesco Falvo, Louise Gallagher, Darcy Halber, Chantal Hansen, Ron Kneebone, Ali Jadidzadeh, Jennifer Legate, Kevin McNichol, Natalie Noble, John Rowland and Kelsey Shea.  Any errors are mine.

Dr. David Ross comes to the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) Board of Director’s with a deep understanding and appreciation of our collective responsibility to take care of one another, especially people living on the margins.

“Seeing what devolved in East Vancouver, seeing the growing number of folks living on the street and in what horrendous conditions they survived, I appreciated the noble efforts being taken to change homelessness, but I often feared we were not winning the war,” said Ross in reference to the years he spent as President of Langara College in downtown Vancouver and witnessed first-hand the rise in homelessness. “It is not a good reflection of Canada. To have so many people in harm’s way.”

For Ross, it’s important that CHF’s message go beyond the siren’s call of taking care of people experiencing homelessness to provide a clear and compelling case for building the infrastructure that not just takes people out of harm’s way but builds sustainability for everyone in community. “We are in a unique moment in time where government has social license to direct money towards social housing. We must keep the pressure on.”

Strengthening and expanding CHF’s leadership in terms of coordinating, collaborating and partnering with a wide variety of interests in what he views as a very complex homeless-serving sector is his compelling reason to become a member of CHF’s Board.


The CHF Board consists of a number of dedicated volunteers committed to working with agencies, governments and donors to ensure our collective vision of ending homelessness in Calgary is achieved and is actively seeking collaborative leaders to join our volunteer Board of Directors. If you share a passion and commitment to our Vision and Mission, have strong ties to our community and are willing to commit time to this important endeavor, we encourage you to contact us. The CHF is the system planner for Calgary’s Homeless-Serving System of Care and at this time is specifically searching for board candidates with experience in governance, risk management and public policy advocacy. We welcome interested indigenous leadership.

If you are interested in being part of a team that is working collaboratively with organizations from across Calgary’s system of care and are energized to make a difference in our community, please forward your resume to

Our Mission: By providing Leadership in Calgary’s Homeless-Serving System of Care ensuring it meets the needs of those who are homeless

Our Vision: Together we will end homelessness in Calgary

Our Values: Catalytic Leadership, Courageous Collaborators, Evidence-Inspired and Vision Dedicated