Calgary Homeless Foundation Releases its Research Agenda

By Nick Falvo, PhD

This week, the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) released its updated Research Agenda.

Full disclosure: I’m CHF’s Director of Research and Data, and I co-authored this year’s research agenda along with Rachel Campbell.

Here are 10 things to know:

  1. The CHF is a non-governmental organization that disburses funding to Calgary non-profits to deliver housing and programming to persons experiencing homelessness. CHF also monitors the performance of each program it funds. More than three-quarters of the funding in question comes from the Government of Alberta. For more on CHF’s role, see this previous blog post.
  2. Over the years, CHF has partnered on a considerable number of research projects. The just-released research agenda lists every publication on which CHF has partnered since 2008 (all of those publications are listed in the document’s Appendix A). This is the first time we’ve listed them all in one place. Special thanks to my colleague, Rachel Campbell, for not only listing them all in one place, but also for writing an annotation discussing each one.
  3. Since 2009, CHF has published research agendas approximately once every two years. Previous versions are available at this link. Each research agenda is a bit like an annual report about CHF’s research.
  4. Every two years, CHF also organizes a community research symposium. The most recent one was held in April 2015. Several themes emerged at that event as knowledge-gaps requiring additional research. Key themes identified for future exploration included: marginalized populations (including Indigenous peoples, seniors, families, and youth); the causes of homelessness; patterns of ‘exit’ from homelessness; and recidivism. Our next symposium is being planned for May 2017.
  5. A major strength of CHF research is its use of data. An example of this is a 2015 study led by CHF’s Senior Researcher, Dr. Ali Jadidzadeh, looking at shelter use over a five-year period by nearly 33,000 individuals in Calgary. The report finds that, contrary to popular perception, the great majority of people who use emergency shelters in Calgary do so very infrequently and for only short periods of time. That report is titled Who Are the Homeless? Numbers, Trends and Characteristics of Those Without Homes in Calgary. The link to the report is here.
  6. The main reason CHF is able to use data stems from the fact that we oversee a city-wide database system with information on persons experiencing homelessness. When Calgary developed its plan to end homelessness back in 2008, it also decided to develop an information management system. Many of Calgary’s homeless-serving organizations enter client information into a database called the Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS). Client-level information (such as age, health status, employment status and housing status) is entered into the database. While the client is receiving services, updated information continues to be entered and updated. In the case of some programs, exit and post-exit follow-up assessments are completed. The HMIS system helps homeless-serving programs in Calgary to prioritize and refer clients to other programs. Some organizations also use the data to provide case management services to clients. Today, all Calgary non-profit programs that receive funding from CHF must use the HMIS. For more on Calgary’s HMIS system, see this previous blog post, as well as point #8 in this previous post.
  7. This year, CHF co-organized the First Annual Canadian Homelessness Data Sharing Initiative. In May 2016, approximately 40 people attended the event (which was co-sponsored with the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy). A major goal was to bring together persons with access to various forms of homelessness data. Those attending included government officials, researchers and students. This will become an annual event, with the next one currently being planned for May 2017. For more on the first event, see this previous blog post.
  8. CHF likes to partner on research that has an impact on both practice and policy. We discuss several such examples in the research agenda, one of which is a project in which we developed standards of practice for case managers working in Housing First programs. This research led to a mandatory accreditation process for all CHF-funded agencies; and in 2013, we learned that the American Case Management Association had begun using this research as part of their curriculum for accreditation of case managers.
  9. Some of CHF’s best research involves persons with lived experience with homelessness. The Homeless Charter of Rights project has used a participatory action research approach to examine the barriers to service faced by persons in Calgary experiencing homelessness. This project, which is ongoing, has involved persons with lived experienced at all stages.
  10. CHF research is developing an international reputation. After reviewing a draft version of the current recent research agenda, Professor Thomas Byrne (Boston University) noted: “I can’t think of a single community here in the United States that is as engaged and thoughtful about conducting research (specifically to inform their practice) as the Calgary Homeless Foundation.”

Click here to view the CHF Research Agenda.

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. Follow him on Twitter: @nicholas_falvo

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

On November 17, I delivered a webinar presentation for the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association titled “The Missing Piece: How Housing Policy Benefits from a Socioeconomic Perspective.”

The presentation focused on both macroeconomic factors and factors pertaining to Canada’s social welfare system in general; I argued that leaders in Canada’s non-profit housing sector should be mindful of such issues (and not just focus on housing and homelessness).  My PowerPoint presentation can be downloaded here; the entire webinar can be viewed here.

Here are 10 things to know:

  1.  In the past several decades, Canada’s economy—as well as its social welfare system—has gone through profound changes. For example, since the 1980s, spending on social welfare by Canada’s federal government has decreased substantially. Likewise, since the mid-1990s, taxation in Canada (by all orders of government combined) has decreased substantially. Canada’s official unemployment rate has been considerably higher in the past several decades than it was in the first two decades after World War II, and a much smaller percentage of unemployed workers are eligible for unemployment insurance benefits today than was the case in the 1970s and 1980s.   Federal spending on housing has also seen a general decrease in the past two decades, and federal spending on homelessness is considerably lower today than it was 15 years ago.  Some social scientists refer to this broad trend as neoliberalism.
  2.  Most of these changes have not been good for Canada’s non-profit housing sector. Less public spending typically means less protection for vulnerable households. What’s more, higher unemployment is usually ‘bad news’ for poverty and homelessness.
  3.  It’s very difficult for researchers to know the precise impact of all these factors on homelessness. Early attempts to understand the main determinants of homelessness in the United States can be found here, here, here and here. A recent Australian attempt can be found here. Ron Kneebone and Margarita Wilkins have done some research on this in Canada.  Their recent policy report—along with some policy prescriptions—can be found here.  A nice, succinct PowerPoint presentation they put together about their report can be found here. (For a general consideration of some of the challenges involved in establishing causation, however, see point #1 in this blog post.)
  4.  Just because there are unanswered questions about ‘cause and effect,’ doesn’t mean it’s not reasonable to suggest many of these changes likely left a lot of people without affordable housing. In light of the challenges involved in establishing causation, researchers have little choice but to make well-researched arguments. With that in mind, I’d argue it’s reasonable to suggest that higher unemployment and cuts to social welfare programs (including cuts to affordable housing) have almost certainly led many Canadian cities to have more homelessness in the post-neoliberal era than in the pre-neoliberal era.  For example, between 1980 and 2000, the average number of persons sleeping in an emergency shelter in Toronto on a nightly basis increased by 300%. (For a consideration of pre-neoliberal vs. post-neoliberal homelessness in Toronto, see this 2010 book chapter.)
  5.  The trends discussed in point #1 above are likely reversible. Indeed, other countries have gone in the other direction as Canada in the past several decades. Between 1980 and 2016, public social spending as a percentage of GDP nearly doubled in Australia, Finland and Italy. (You can see these figures for yourself at the OECD web site here.)  It’s also useful to consider the case of Japan, which currently has an official unemployment rate of just 3%.  Bill Mitchell (Chair in Economics at the University of Newcastle) attributes Japan’s low unemployment in part to increased public spending; he writes about this here.
  6.  Non-profit housing leaders should pay attention to macroeconomic and social trends, and not simply think about what’s directly in front of them (namely, housing). To do this, I recommend they do the following: read every column Thomas Walkom ever writes; subscribe to the Canadian Social Research Newsletter; read the blog of the Progressive Economics Forum; read reports and blog posts of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Caledon Institute of Social Policy and the Institute for Research on Public Policy.  On Twitter, I suggest people follow: Miles Corak, Andrew Coyne, Rob Gillezeau, Seth Klein, David Macdonald, Angella MacEwen, André Picard, Trevor Tombe and Armine Yalnizyan.
  7.  When advocating with elected officials and government staff, non-profit housing leaders should discuss macroeconomic factors as well as the broader social welfare system. Several organizations already do this. One example can be seen in CHRA’s recent submission to Canada’s National Housing strategy (NHS) consultations; another is the Calgary Homeless Foundation’s recent submission to the NHS consultations.
  8.  Non-profit housing leaders should partner with researchers who are knowledgeable of macroeconomic factors and the broader social welfare system. An important example of this is the Alternative Federal Budget exercise, which brings together a large array of advocacy organizations and researchers; together, they put forth an alternative to each year’s federal budget.
  9.  Non-profit housing leaders—and researchers with whom they partner—should be honest about what they don’t know. There are at least two reasons for this. First, it’s the honest thing to do.  The late John Kenneth Galbraith reminded us of this when he said the following about economic forecasters: “There are two kinds of forecasters: those who don’t know, and those who don’t know they don’t know.”  Second, exaggerating your point may hurt you in the end.  To see how, read this blog post I wrote in August 2016.
  10.  When graduate students do placements at non-profit organizations, their supervisors should have them write annotated bibliographies of existing research. They should then learn from those annotated bibliographies and become more informed on the research topic in question than any elected official, any senior staff or any academic researcher. (Here’s a little secret: one reason I know about all the homelessness studies I discuss in point #3 above is that, last summer, a graduate student wrote an annotated bibliography for the Calgary Homeless Foundation; in preparing the present blog post, I was able to quickly review the document he prepared in a matter of minutes.)  For more on annotated bibliographies, see this link.

The author wishes to thank the following individuals for assistance in the preparation of this blog post: Ron Kneebone, Tamara Krawchenko, Louise Gallagher, Brian MacLean, Marc-André Pigeon and Mario Seccareccia.  Any errors lie with the author. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the Calgary Homeless Foundation. Any errors lie with the author.

To download a PDF of this post click HERE.

falvo-photoNick 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. Follow him on Twitter: @nicholas_falvo


At CHF our board is an incredibly important group of volunteers. They bring their experiences, skills and insight to the table and help guide our work. Nine community members have recently joined our board, and we chatted with Diana Krecsy, our President and CEO, about each of them and what they bring to CHF. We also wanted to know more about the board’s innovative strategy of holding board meetings at member agencies.

What do you see as the vision for the board?

DK:  It’s truly a board made up of caring, dynamic Calgarians with multiple talents and skills, people who bring their expertise to help the community solve homelessness and make Calgary better. They’re respectful of the hard work our agencies do but also want to challenge the status quo.

Tell us about a typical board meeting and why you hold them at other agencies.

DK: We’re the system planner, which means other agencies do the frontline service for people experiencing homelessness. We’re invited by an agency who serves this population directly to hold our board meeting in their space. The first 30 minutes of our meeting are with a staff or board member from the host agency, who present on the work of their agency. After our regular meeting, the board gets a tour of the agency.

DK: It helps us see the whole picture and understand the many complex aspects of the system. It also keeps the board motivated. We’re a governance board, but it’s important that we see that real people are in real crisis and everyone has a role to play. It shows respect for the work of the agencies and for the clients they serve.

What has the success been with holding these meetings at agencies?

DK: We’ve cried, we’ve laughed, we’ve learned. The feedback from the board members has been amazing. They’re overwhelmed by the need but also inspired by the work that’s happening.

Tell us a little about each of the new members who have joined and the skills or experience they bring.

DK: Gerald Chipeur – Gerald is a Partner at Miller Thomson. His legal background in indigenous rights and human rights and his skill set in terms of public policy will be hugely beneficial to this work.

Tracee Collins – She has experience serving as the president of several boards and in community service. She’s worked in non-profit, energy, and finance, so she’s community grounded and has a wealth of diverse knowledge.

Colby Delorme – Colby is President of NATION Imagination – The Aboriginal Gifting Co. He has expertise in Aboriginal business and he’s an entrepreneur who understands indigenous art and artists.

Ellen Dungen – She’s the President of EMD Consulting Ltd and has 20 years’ experience in the financial sector. She has a huge breadth of board experience and brings strong governance to the table.

Christine Hutchinson – Christine is lawyer specializing in Aboriginal law. She understands the structure with chiefs and councils and will assist with our indigenous strategy, helping enhance urban community life for the indigenous person.

Lourdes Juan – She is a quintessential entrepreneur of the future and a top 40 under 40 who has held CEO roles, but also has been involved in philanthropy and social service work in the community.

Dr. Ron Kneebone – Dr. Kneebone is a professor in the department of economics at University of Calgary and the Director of the Institute for Advanced Policy Research in the School of Public Policy.  He’ll help us understand how homelessness happens on a systemic level, and is an expert on research, due diligence and public policy.

Alexandra Nuth – She’s the Senior Manager of Innovation at ATB and she is familiar with business models, consulting, corporate strategy, workforces and finances and will help us look at these in a new way.

Karen Young – Karen is the new incoming CEO of United Way. She’s a believer in visionary leadership, and how to do things differently and change the status quo to benefit the community. She really understands what respectful collaboration is all about.

I also want to recognize and honour our past board members who have now retired. They’ve contributed so much and really left a legacy of positive change in our community. They are the ones who inspire us to keep going.

*Previous board meetings have been held at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre, the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary, The Mustard Seed, Aspen Family, the Louise Dean Centre, United Way, CUPS, Centre for Newcomers, Calgary Public Library, Brookfield Residential, Bow Valley College and the Louise Dean Centre.



Solving important social issues such as homelessness sometimes requires bold solutions. It means we need to look outside our own organizations and skill sets and partner with those who can do it best. We’re thrilled to announce that CHF made this kind of bold move when we announced this past June that we would be moving our housing portfolio (360 units) to HomeSpace Society. HomeSpace Society held its official opening celebration on November 25, 2016.

This move means that Calgary Homeless Foundation has now transferred the responsibility of building and managing housing (a $60 million portfolio) to HomeSpace, which has the experience and resources needed to take this on. It also means we’ll see much-needed housing capacity added in Calgary. CHF will continue to act as the system planner for the sector and work on research and investment. CHF also remains the RESOLVE partner with HomeSpace providing development, construction and building management expertise for the remaining 8 – 10 projects slated to be completed through the RESOLVE Campaign.

HomeSpace was formerly known as Calgary Community Land Trust and with the help of CHF they’ve secured capital funding to own and manage 600 units. They held their official opening celebration on November 25, 2016. We are very excited to celebrate their official launch and to be partners in this new chapter heralding increased opportunities to build specialized housing for vulnerable people in Calgary.

Huge congratulations to the winners of the Arthur R. Smith awards, who were celebrated on October 6 for their contributions to ending homelessness in Calgary. The awards were presented by Trevor Daroux, Deputy Chief of the Calgary Police Service and Betty Ann Smith, honourary patron of the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) and wife of the late Arthur R. Smith. These recipients were chosen because they reflect Arthur’s compassion and determination to help all his neighbours.

KAIROS, the winner of the Volunteer Award, was instrumental in paying off the $1.5 million mortgage for Acadia Place, spending thousands of hours working alongside CUPS staff to help families and individuals move in.

Devon Oulette, a member of the Calgary Police Service, is the recipient of the Front-Line Employee Award for his work on the Vulnerable Persons Unit, working with service providers like Alpha House to help keep individuals successfully housed.

The Community Treatment Order team, awarded the Front-Line Team Award, helps service providers work with individuals living with complex mental illnesses who are also experiencing homelessness. This team works with Pathways to Housing to increase the stability of their clients.

“These awards recognize all of the work that is done behind the scenes to help people experiencing homelessness in our city,” says Diana Krecsy, President and CEO of CHF. “As a community we’ve housed over 8,000 people since 2008; now we get to celebrate a few of the people who made that possible.”

On Wednesday, October 19, 2016, CHF participated in Alberta’s second province-wide Point-in-Time Count of homelessness. The October 2014 Count found 6,663 people experiencing homelessness in Alberta, with Calgary and Edmonton representing 88% of the total Count (5,862 individuals). Calgary accounted for just over half of those counted (3,555 individuals). Preliminary findings for this year’s Count were released in November.

“Point-in-Time Counts provide us a snapshot of homelessness on a given night,” says Diana Krecsy, President and CEO of CHF. “This year’s Count provides critical data to help focus our resources to ensure people have the right resources at the right time to prevent and end homelessness in their lives.”

There were two parts to the Count. First, people who sleep outside were counted and offered assistance and, where possible, a survey was completed. Second, more than 70 facilities shared their data, including emergency shelters and temporary accommodations. As well, sites such as remand centres, hospital emergency rooms, and police processing units provided data on how many people experiencing homelessness were under their care that night.

This Count is part of a 7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness initiative. It provides valuable information and data allowing the cities to monitor trends and their progress on ending homelessness. An independent consultant, along with research teams from each city, will compile and analyze the data, with final reports to be released in the spring of 2017.

The third Connectivity Breakfast Community Action: Target 2018 was held on October 10th, 2016 at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre. In total, 37 organizations within the homeless-serving sector and associated sectors were represented by 63 Executive Directors, Board Chairs and designates. While the topic of conversation is different at each breakfast, the goal always remains the same: bringing organizations within the homeless-serving sector together with public systems providers and other providers of services to the sector to continue to further integration across the homeless-serving system of care and strengthen collaboration and our collective impact towards ending homelessness in Calgary.

(Debbie Newman, Executive Director of the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre, gives an update on the Calgary Recovery Services Task Force)

This breakfast highlighted the work of the Calgary Recovery Services Task Force, a collective of 26 Calgary agencies and government partners measuring and addressing the need for vulnerable populations. The main focus was to provide a high level picture of all we’ve achieved as community since launching Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness in 2008. Kevin McNichol, VP Strategy at the Calgary Homeless Foundation, provided an overview of 10 things we, as a community, can accomplish by the end of 2018. Of those 10 things, participants were asked to prioritize their top 7 and then, as a cohort at each table, determine the top 3.

The final report from this Connectivity Breakfast will be released in December 2016 and the next breakfast will be held in the fall of 2017.

At CHF we support a National Housing Strategy and we’re grateful for the opportunity to provide input to the government’s consultation process. We talked to Janice Chan, System Planner at CHF, for an update.

How is CHF involved in the National Housing Strategy?

JC: In total, we helped draft two surveys, five letters and three briefs for the National Housing Strategy. These included preparing our own brief and letter to the minister; meeting with CHF’s Client Action Committee (CAC), a committee comprised of individuals with lived experience, helping to prepare a response on their behalf; contributing to Maytree/United Way’s submission by sharing our CAC results; and participating in the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association’s survey. We also financially partnered with the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness to support their collective response, and helped prepare submissions on behalf of 7 Cities, Enough for All’s Social Policy Collaborative and the Community Housing Affordability Collective (CHAC).

What have been the biggest wins so far? 

JC: We’ve had enormous interest among all three levels of government.  This includes financial commitments at the federal and provincial levels and municipal interest in moving affordable housing development applications forward quickly.  We’ve also seen policy commitments, which include the City of Calgary Corporate Affordable Housing Strategy (passed in July 2016), as well as consultations for the Provincial Affordable Housing Strategy and National Housing Strategy.

What are the next steps for the strategy and CHF?

JC: The province has posted results of the consultation on their website and CHF continues to be involved in conversations with the province on their strategy. We’re working with CHAC to move projects forward, such as the Non-Market Real Estate Strategy and we’ll continue to participate in consultations as the government forms policy. We want to ensure the voice of people experiencing homelessness is included in upcoming housing strategies.

For more information please see our six recommendations for inclusion into the National Housing Strategy and our Key Supporting Statistics.


The Calgary Homeless Foundation would like to thank two donors who have made a big impact this holiday season: greengate Garden Centres Ltd and Sponsor Energy.

For 14 years, greengate Garden Centres Ltd and the Telford family have helped Calgarians end homelessness through their “Help the Homeless this Holiday” Campaign, hosted every December. This year they have already donated over two truckloads of clothing, winter jackets and blankets that CHF is then able to deliver to frontline agencies in Calgary and the campaign still has to weeks left. This act of kindness led by the Telford Family is a great example of how Calgarians can help end homelessness in Calgary.

This year’s Giving Tuesday has kicked off an exciting new development towards ending homelessness in Calgary. Sponsor Energy, an energy retailer that sells electricity and natural gas to socially conscious consumers in Alberta, has the means to turn an ordinary, everyday purchase of electricity and gas into a tool to change the world and they’re doing so one non for profit, one business, one Calgarian at a time. The Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) is now Sponsor Energy’s newest Community Partner; this partnership allows a consumer with Sponsor Energy to choose CHF as its recipient charity of choice when they power their home. Over the next three months, CHF and Sponsor Energy are hoping to inspire 250 homes and five businesses in Calgary to make the switch, while selecting CHF as their charity of choice. For the length of the three month campaign, 100% of the profits from the energy consumption from those who have switched over, is donated to CHF. 50% of the profits post-campaign are donated each month after that for the entire duration of the consumers contract.

Thank you to both greengate Garden Centres and Sponsor for making the choice to be a part of ending homelessness in Calgary! We couldn’t do it without partners like you.



Thank you to all who attended the Longest Night of the Year Memorial last night on December 21, 2016. 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.

Thank you to those who brought additional names to the service with you. Thank you to those who shared your stories, those who spoke, those who gave blessing, to those who gave prayer and song. Each of you gave something that will never be forgotten.

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.

*Thank you to those who brought names of those you have lost. We will make a complete record of the names collected and make sure to host it here in memory. If you have lost someone and would like their name added to this list, please contact Darcy at darcyh@calgaryhomeless.com.


Please see below for additional coverage on this year’s Longest Night of the Year Memorial.