By: Nick Falvo, 

Original post can be found here.

On February 1, I gave a guest presentation on homelessness to a graduate seminar class on housing policy taught by Steve Pomeroy at Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration. The focus of my presentation was the emergence of homelessness in Canada as a pressing public policy area in the 1980s. I discussed the growth of homelessness, policy responses and advocacy. My slides from the presentation can be downloaded here.

I first got involved in the homelessness sector in 1998 when I began working at a homeless shelter as a front-line worker. All told, I spent 10 years doing front-line work with homeless persons in Toronto; most of that time was as a mental health outreach worker at Street Health. (I also wrote a report on Toronto homelessness in 2009.)

I apologize in advance for the somewhat Toronto-centric nature of the present blog post. Since much of my early experience in the homelessness sector took place in Toronto, this blog post will no doubt omit important developments that have occurred in other parts of Canada.

With the above in mind, here are 10 things to know:

  1. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of persons sleeping in Toronto homeless shelters on a nightly basis increased by 300%.This resulted in more public attention on homelessness. I also think it helped lead to more public resources being channeled to homelessness.
  1. I think six main factors led to that increase in homelessness.During the time period being considered: 1) there were two deep recessions that led to double-digit unemployment levels across Canada; 2) the percentage of unemployed Canadians who qualified for unemployment insurance benefits fell significantly; 3) many Canadian provinces reduced the generosity (I use the term loosely) of their social assistance programs; 4) for-profit developers essentially stopped building rental housing; 5) senior levels of government stopped devoting substantial amounts of funding to the creation of new affordable housing units; and 6) rental vacancy rates dipped to very low levels. I would argue that all of these factors created the ‘perfect storm’ for rising homelessness.
  1. As homelessness grew in Toronto, supportive housing became a popular program response. By supportive housing, I mean government-subsidized, permanent housing for low-income persons, combined with ‘social work’ support to help the tenant maintain their tenancy. (For more on supportive housing, see this report.) In many cases, the homeless person receiving the housing did not have to prove their ‘housing readiness’ in order to receive the housing.
  1. Beginning in 2005, there emerged a lot of talk in Canada about something called housing first. For the purpose of the present blog post, I’ll define housing first as the practice of providing a homeless person with immediate access to permanent housing (rather than requiring that the person prove themselves ‘ready for housing’ before receiving it). I would argue that, at least in Toronto, housing first began in the 1980s with the introduction of supportive housing. In fact, Homes First Society, which started offering supportive housing in Toronto in the early 1980s, was named for precisely the same reason as housing first—its founders believed that people needed homes first before they could work on other challenges (e.g. employment, health problems, etc.). That said, I think the beginning of Streets to Homes (a large housing first program in Toronto) in 2005 ultimately encouraged officials across Canada to be more forthcoming than previously in terms of providing permanent housing to homeless persons without requiring ‘housing readiness.’
  1. The use of the term housing first is confusing. I think that’s because, by definition, it refers to the method by which program administrators determine when a homeless person should receive permanent housing. Yet, because it appeals to persons on the left and right of the political spectrum, it’s become a popular catchphrase. For example, the term appears 118 times in the federal government’s 2014-2019 directive for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. I suspect the federal government uses the term so frequently in that directive largely because of the term’s popularity.
  1. The same federal department that mentions housing first 118 times in one document also administers federal funding for homelessness that today (on an annual basis) is worth just 35% of what it was in 1999. Last November, I wrote that annual federal funding for homelessness today is worth considerably less than it was in 1999. Indeed, I wrote that, in order for such funding to be restored to 1999 levels, the federal government would have to increase its annual funding for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy from $119 million to $343 million.
  1. Beginning in approximately 2005,[1] there was a shift in terms of who was dominating the public advocacy debate on homelessness in Canada. I think that many of the people who’d previously been strong advocates for the homeless on a national level started to ‘run out of gas’ (not to mention resources). Meanwhile, a new crop of advocates started to emerge. Suddenly, the most vocal advocates were more ‘glass half full’ than their predecessors. A key—often implicit—argument of the new generation of advocates was that public resources for the homeless had been mismanaged in the past and that, if they were better managed going forward, we would see major reductions in homelessness (possibly without a great deal more public spending). I’ve come to know key players in both the pre-2005 and post-2005 camps and have great admiration for their tenacity and integrity. I also think that each approach has its strengths.
  1. I think a strength of the pre-2005 ‘glass half empty’ approach was its brutal honesty. Many would argue that an honest, meaningful discussion about homelessness must include a strong focus on high mortality rates among persons experiencing homelessness; and you could always count on the pre-2005 advocates to raise this topic loudly. Moreover, the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee’s call for senior levels of government to double annual spending on affordable housing, in my opinion, would have been good public policy.
  1. I think a strength of the post-2005 ‘glass half full’ approach is that it often presents as non-threatening to public officials. I find that adherents of this approach like to publicly applaud announcements and long-term goals that have the potential to reduce homelessness, even when such moves aren’t accompanied by new funding. Indeed, incremental moves by government are publicly applauded. The success of the aforementioned housing first approach is often offered as proof that methods of responding to homelessness have indeed improved over the years. I would argue that one key organization that embodies this ‘glass half full’ approach is the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.
  1. There’s no inherent reason why both approaches can’t co-exist and complement each other. I think the ‘glass half empty’ advocates can create space for the ‘glass half full’ advocates. A colleague of mine refers to the former as “outsiders”—they’re typically outside the offices of elected officials and senior government staff. The same colleague refers to the latter as “insiders”—they’re very often meeting inside the offices of elected officials and government staff. In short, I think there’s room both inside and outside the offices of decision-makers for important conversations about homelessness.

[1] I’ve somewhat arbitrarily chosen 2005, as that’s the year that the City of Toronto introduced its Streets to Homes program.


A blog by Nick Falvo


CHF was pleased to attend an Eagle Spirit Survivor Street Celebration lunch on January 20, 2016. The Eagle Spirit Survivor Street Celebration lunches are organized every two weeks at the Community Wise Centre in Calgary.

The lunch welcomes the Calgary community to get-together, enjoy a hot meal and catch-up. In partnership with The Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary (AFCC), the Eagle Spirit Survivor Street Celebration lunches begin with an opening prayer and Smudge.

The lunch events could not be possible without the amazing volunteers. Susan, Toni, Shandi, Samantha, Sheldon and Joyce offer warm smiles as they prepare, cook and serve the delicious lunches.

AFCC, one of CHF’s partnering agencies, provides social, cultural, education and employment services to the Aboriginal peoples withing the Calgary Metropolitan area.

Everyone is welcome to attend the next Eagle Spirit Survivor Street Celebration lunch on February 17, 2016 at the Community Wise Centre (223 12 Ave S.W.) from 12:30 p.m. – 2 p.m. If you are interested in volunteering, drumming and/or singing, please e-mail Shandi or call her at 403-270-7379 ext. 231.

 Eagle Spirit Street Survivors Group Luncheon 02 17 20162

Homelessness is defined as “those who do not have a permanent residence to which they can return whenever they so choose.”

Due to a lack of affordable housing In Calgary there are an estimated 3,500 individuals who live in that defined place called homelessness in our city.

The late Mr. Arthur R. Smith, entrepreneur, politician and philanthropist, founded the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) in 1998 to create a unified front to reduce homelessness in Calgary. In 2008, CHF and other homeless-serving sector agencies and community partners launched the Plan to End Homelessness, following year over year increases in Calgary’s homeless count. The Plan saw the provincial government and community partners focus on providing direct supportive housing and programs to the chronically homeless with the knowledge that a lack of affordable housing impedes individuals’ and families’ ability to find and sustain housing in Calgary. Because of those efforts, almost 7,000 people have been provided with permanent housing with supports, there has been a 15% decrease in homelessness in Calgary per 100,000 population and 895 housing placements were made, funded by CHF, through community agencies last year alone.

While great strides have been made, there is still much to do and we couldn’t do it without the supports of our community. In 2015 the Alberta Lottery Fund stepped up to the plate to support two essential positions within CHF in its mission to end homelessness.  These positions, The Manager of Acquisitions and Development and the Manager of Communications, align with the strategy outlined in the Plan to End Homelessness and have been essential to the goal of helping individuals find housing with supports. Without the support of the Alberta Lottery Fund for both positions, the Calgary Homeless Foundation would struggle to build the necessary relationships and housing units in the community required to make more affordable housing a possibility.

Both of these roles focus on community engagement as well as the building process. CHF prides itself on being a good landlord and neighbour and much of that depends on the relationship built during the consultation process. The individuals in these positions work with community associations to ensure that architectural guidelines of the community are met and that a Good Neighbourhood Agreement is put in place.

Matt Vermunt is the Manager of Acquisitions and Development at the Calgary Homeless Foundation. “My role contributes to ending homelessness in Calgary through the acquisition of developable land and then guiding these sites through the community consultation, regulatory and approval process. Through the CHF’s RESOLVE partnership, these projects are then paired with a local home builder acting as construction manager and, together with the CHF’s development team, work to provide purpose built, permanent supportive housing units.”  Matt’s overall role at CHF is to lead the development of 8-10 projects providing a total of 240 permanent supportive housing units to house some of Calgary’s most vulnerable. Without this role, there would be many Calgarians still without a home today.

Many thanks to the Alberta Lottery Fund, through the Community Initiatives Program Operating Grant, for their generous donation and for their contribution to roles that are essential to helping us end homelessness through affordable housing.

For more information on the RESOLVE Campaign please visit

Thank you to all that attended the Longest Night of the Year on December 21, 2015. The memorial service was open to every Calgarian and allowed them to share their light and silence in memory of those who have lost their lives while experiencing homelessness in our city.

As we gathered, we stood in silence to remember those we have lost who have walked the streets, slept in alleyways or spent time in a shelter. We remembered our loved ones that have passed and recognized their place forever in our hearts. We stood together and said with our silence that these people mattered.

Brothers, sisters, friends, partners. We will not forget you.

*Above is the list of names of people who have died while experiencing homelessness in Calgary, written down by people in our community. If you have lost someone and would like their name added to this list, please contact Darcy at

We are pleased to announce that Calgary will be hosting the 7 cities Conference on Housing First and Homelessness this year.

This is an opportunity for the homeless serving sector to come together to learn, share, create dialogue, and collaboratively focus our efforts on ending homelessness in our local communities and the province of Alberta. 

We look forward to working with you to create a conference that will benefit our sector, the people we serve and our province.

Please note that registration will open Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Alberta’s 7 cities on Housing and Homelessness are the lead organizations responsible for the implementation of local Plans to End Homelessness, working together since 2001. The 7 cities coordinate local plans at a systems level and align funding resources for greater impact and progress towards ending homelessness. You can read more about Alberta’s 7 cities on Housing and Homelessness by clicking here.


The 7 cities are:

Calgary Homeless Foundation

City of Grande Prairie

City of Lethbridge

Homeward Trust Edmonton

Medicine Hat Community Housing Society

City of Red Deer

Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo​


Thank you for your support!


February 20th brings the Coldest Night once again to Calgary.

A partnership of charities aiding individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty is encouraging Calgary residents to bundle up and raise cold, hard cash for The Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY).

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary (Feed the Hungry), KAIROS Calgary (Acadia Place) and The Mustard Seed are hosting the third annual family-friendly winter fundraising event for Calgarians experiencing homelessness, hunger and hurt. The WALK takes place on the evening of Saturday, February 20, 2016.

Thousands of participants will be taking part in the WALK in an anticipated 100 cities across Canada. By walking together in the chill of the night, participants will better understand the experience of being on the streets during a cold Canadian winter, while raising funds to aid the work of these three partner charities in providing much-needed support to members of our community.

Calgary’s CNOY event begins and ends at Eau Claire Market, located at 200 Barclay Parade SW, where walkers will register, turn in the results of their fundraising efforts, and return at the end of the evening for a warm celebration meal. Donning iconic blue toques, participants will walk a 2km, 5km or 10km route, and will warm up with toasty drinks at rest stops along the way.

This is Calgary’s third year taking part in CNOY, and the Diocese and KAIROS Calgary are honoured to have The Mustard Seed join their partnership. The Calgary Homeless Foundation is also taking part in this event.

Calgary organizers are aiming to raise $150,000 in support of people experiencing homelessness and poverty in Calgary. As many as 600 walkers and 75 teams, including staff and friends of the organizing partners are expected to brave the cold winter’s night. Community sponsors include The Print Shop, Eau Claire Market, and the Calgary Curling Club.

Together, the three partner agencies have been serving Calgary for over 100 years, and the funds raised from CNOY will benefit their clients in a time of year known historically for low levels of giving. To find out more visit



For further information, contact:

Samantha Jones, Events Manager, Diocese

E:   P: 1-403-218-5531 


For National Event information, contact:

Brian Carney, Executive Director

E:   P: 1-519-603-2250

By: Louise Gallagher

We gathered in the early evening darkness, the city a constant hum of traffic on the streets surrounding us.

We gathered and we held our tiny flickering candle lights and listened to the sounds and stood in the silence. Remembering.

We remembered. People who have walked the streets, stood on corners and asked for change and slept in alleyways and city parks or a mat on the floor in a shelter.

We remembered. The laughter and the tears. The good times and the bad.

We remembered. The friendship. The camaraderie. The stories told and those not shared.

We remembered. Moments we shared. Moments we knew about. And the stories we never knew of where they’d been before. Of where they’d come from before this thing called ‘homeless’ hit. And as we remembered, as we carried the light in the darkness, the city moved around us, a sibilant, hissing stream of traffic carrying people to and from the places they needed to be, wanted to go, had to get to.

And we stood surrounded by tall buildings looming in the dark, their windows lit, lights glistening. And our voices called out the names of those we’d lost. Our voices spoke their names into the night and for a moment, their names lit up the darkness and in the stillness between each breath, hearts beat in time, candles glowed and we were one.

Last night, we held the first Longest Night of the Year, a memorial service for those who have passed away in homelessness. About 50 people gathered in a downtown city park to stand together and speak the names of those they knew who had passed away and to write their names on a large framed poster and to tell stories of the ones we miss.

One woman came to the mic and spoke of her brother whom she lost to the streets several years ago. They had lived together on the streets back then. It was not a good life. She spoke of gang wars and drugs and fighting and hurting people and lashing out at those who passed by who never saw her, who didn’t know her name but who still chose to call her names and mock her and her brother for their baggy clothes and angry ways. She didn’t care, back then when her brother was alive. She only cared about blocking out the pain, numbing the fear, burying her past. And then, her brother died a violent death.

We must stop the violence, she said. Stop the violence.

And she’s right. We, all of us, must. Stop the violence. We, all of us, must, end homelessness.

It was a night of remembering and a night of promising to do better. To do more to ensure we do not lose more of us to the dark. We do not lose our way completely.

Last night, we stood together so that we do not forget those who left who once walked our streets. We stood together so we do not forget they once lived amongst us. That they once laughed and joked and told stories and shared a cigarette, a last meal, a last smile.

And I wondered, what if we saw them/this differently?

What if we, the privileged ones, the ones with homes and jobs and places to go, stopped our busy just to see those who walk amongst us with no fixed address as other than ‘homeless’?

What if, we do not see them as them or ‘other than’ but as all of us? What if we took time to remember, this is our world. One planet. One earth. One home. For all of us. And we are each responsible for one another. We are all one.


To read more about the Longest Night of the Year:

Metro News: Marking a Solemn Solstice in Calgary

CTV:  Longest Night of the Year

Global News:  Homeless People who Lost their lives get Dignified Farewell

longest night


There are a thousand roads leading into homelessness, but only two leading out of it. One leads home. The other leads to the grave.

On Monday, December 21 we will gather as a community to remember those whose road out of homelessness ended with their last breath.

We will remember. And together we will say, “You are not forgotten.”

It is hard in this place called, ‘homeless’ to remember that there are those who miss you, remember you, want to know where you are. It is hard to remember where you are, let alone who you are, when every street you turn down becomes a dead end leading you nowhere but back to where you came from, and that’s the road that lead you here, to this place called homeless.

It is the dichotomy of the place and state of homelessness. You have to lose everything you’ve got to get there yet, it takes everything you’ve got to get out of it.

For some, getting out of it is only achieved when their heart stops beating and breath no longer passes over their lips.

For some, the only road out is the road they so desperately tried to avoid with every breath they took to stay alive.

And then they are gone and there is no marker, no ceremony, no memorial to say, “I was here. I existed. I made a difference.”

A walk through the unmarked graves in Queen’s Park Cemetery in Calgary tells the story. The city provides land to bury those of no fixed address, but there is no money to mark the names on a headstone. When the grave is dug, a city worker places  cardboard tag affixed to a little metal stick with the deceased’s name scribbled on it with a black sharpie in the ground to mark the location of each burial plot.

If you’re lucky, the stick will still be standing up and the tag will still be affixed.

But mostly, the sticks have fallen over, the tags have gone blowin’ in the wind and all the flowers, if there were any, are gone.

It’s hard for those who want to remember to come and visit. Just as so often happened in life, they do not know where to find their loved ones in a field of unmarked graves.

This Monday, we will stand together and remember. Please come and stand with us. Come and remember and listen to each name called out, each candle lit.

And in our remembering, let us say together, “You are not forgotten.”


Guest Blog Written By Louise Gallagher

This winter, on Monday, December 21st in James Short Park, Calgary will hold a city-wide memorial service for those who have passed away while experiencing homelessness in our city. Coordinated by the Client Action Committee (CAC) at the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF), this memorial, called the Longest Night of the Year, will give a space to many to remember those they have lost. For most individuals, this candlelight memorial will be the only commemoration of their lives lost due to homelessness.

The Longest Night memorial service is open to every Calgarian. The Aboriginal Friendship Centre will share a blessing, singing and drumming. Committee members of the CAC will share a few words and there will be an opportunity for those who have lost friends and family to the streets to write down the names of those they have lost.

Please join us for our candlelight memorial on Monday, December 21st. Lend your voice so that others take notice that there are still people without a home in our city.  Come share your light and your silence so that those who have passed on are not forgotten.

Date: Monday, December 21st

Time: 5:00pm-7:00pm

Location: James Short Park, 115 4 Ave SW, Calgary AB


Forever set in time.

Guest Blog Written by Louise Gallagher December 8, 2009 in memory of James Bannerman

And as we wind on down the road,
Our shadows taller than our soul,
There walks a lady we all know.
Who shines white light and wants to show…
How everything still turns to gold.
And if you listen very hard the tune will come to you at last.
When all are one and one is all, yeah, to be a rock and not to roll.
And she’s buying a stairway… to heaven.

-Led Zepplin, Stairway to Heaven

It was cold when I arrived at the hospice. Cold and frosty. A clear winter’s night. Stars littered the sky above. Glistening white in the black blanket of night. The half moon lying on its back low on the horizon. Snow covered the ground. Pristine white. It wrapped the earth in a wintry blanket. In the dark night, the hospice glowed like a beacon. Of hope. Of peace. Of little possibility of more life on earth for the man I’d come to see.

I had called around 7:30 to see how James Bannerman, father, son, brother, uncle, nephew, photographer, gardener, handyman, labourer, homeless, was doing.

“He won’t last a great deal longer,” the nurse told me.

I wondered aloud whether it was appropriate that I come.

“It’s up to you. You don’t have to,” she said. “As he nears the end, we will check on him regularly. We’ll do our absolute best to ensure he’s not alone when the time comes.”

When the time comes.

I thought about that time. That time when death descends and life is exhaled on one last breath. That moment in time when the physical body releases its spirit to the night. I wondered about James being alone. What if… Someone else called at that exact moment and the nurses couldn’t be there. What if… they timed it wrong? What if… he was alone?

I decided to drive the forty-five minutes to a small town south of Calgary where he had been taken earlier that afternoon.

It had been the only time I’ve ever heard James complain. We were in his apartment. The apartment we’d moved him into when he’d been released from hospital a few weeks before. The cancer was terminal. The doctor’s didn’t give him long to live. He wasn’t on any meds. He wasn’t in any pain. He just needed a place to stay. The main shelter wasn’t appropriate. Too busy. Too noisy. Too uncomfortable for him. Because we own an apartment building for senior’s, we had the luxury of affording him a place of his own to call home for his final days.

I had gone over in the morning as soon as I received the call. “They’re taking James to a hospice. We’re just organizing it now,” the staff member at the apartment building told me.

When I arrived James was failing fast. I sat with him and held his hands. They were cold. I warmed them with mine. We sat as people came and went. I didn’t want to let go of his hands. I wanted to warm them with mine, even a heart of stone is warmed in loving hands.

I’d written that line in a fairy tale for my daughters years ago. But James’ heart wasn’t of stone. It was a warm, kind, loving heart. A gentle soul, he was constantly on the go. “Cleaning up the river bank,” he’d tell me on my morning walk into work when I’d meet him on the river path, knapsack on his back, large plastic garbage bag in one hand. “I’m doing the city a service,” he’d smile.

Sometimes I’d see him in the garden at the shelter. Constantly weeding, moving plants, mowing grass. Or on a sidewalk of a downtown high rise office tower, shovelling snow, clearing up the mess.

It’s what he did.

Picture taking was his ‘retirement plan’, he’d told me once. “I’m getting kind of old for labour.”

He was fifty-two. The years of hard living lined his face like ridges of bark rippling across a tree trunk. He always wore a ball cap. Always carried his backpack with him. It held his precious camera, laptop and photo files. It had been stolen once from the shelter. “Someone obviously needed it more than me,” he said. And when it was returned by the police, he smiled. “I really only wanted the files back. I was kinda hoping I’d have to buy new gear. That one wasn’t doing the best job for me anymore.”

He never complained. Never whined. Never bemoaned his fate. “I’ve had a good life. The life that suited me,” he said.

And yesterday he whispered. “Cold.”

It was the only complaint I ever heard from him. It would be the last.

Early this morning, at 12:45 am James A. Bannerman passed from this realm to another. I sat beside him as his laboured breathing quietened. I held his hand. Spoke softly reassuring him he wasn’t alone. 80’s rock played on the radio. He’d asked to not be alone and that “Stairway to Heaven” be played. The closest we could find was, “Like a Rock.”

And he was. A rock. A quiet man of gentle voice and manner. A great man. A man of wondrous eyes. A man who saw the beauty in the angle of the sun hitting the corner of a building. A man who captured the awe of water dancing in the river as it passed through the downtown core to places far away. The man who saw a doggie in the window, and set him forever in time in a photograph.

James’ memory will be forever set in time.

May he rest in peace.

CHF is proud to be one of the 14 agencies benefiting from the 2015 Calgary Herald Christmas Fund.  The funds raised through the Calgary Herald’s Christmas Fund Campaign will be used to support Coordinated Access and Assessment (CAA).

What is CAA?  Homeless individuals are not a homogenous population, and various interventions are necessary to successfully meet the needs of the individuals within this demographic.  CAA provides a single entry point into the homeless serving System of Care that helps identify the needs and interventions most appropriate for individuals within each target group through the use of a standardized assessment tool. CAA improves coordination among homeless serving agencies while reducing redundancies in services as information and data becomes centralized and standardized. CAA works to improve the client experience within the System of Care through improved access and support for system navigation. Furthermore, a more robust assessment process allows for more effective and accurate program placements. It ensures the most vulnerable people in our community are referred to housing programs equipped to meet their needs. CAA operates based on a triage model, targeting and prioritizing individuals with highest needs.

For more information or to donate click here.