Jones: Access to housing for all isn’t just the right thing to do – it makes economic sense

Patricia Jones, President and CEO, Calgary Homeless Foundation

Growing up in small-town Alberta, it never occurred to me that people might not have a home. I was raised in a large family on a farm: we didn’t have a lot of money, but I always had a place where I felt safe and loved. This is not the reality for 80,000 Calgarians who struggle to keep their home for several reasons—including intergenerational trauma, personal circumstances, and plain bad luck.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted what we intuitively know: that housing strengthens our physical and mental health. When we are sick, we can recover in the comfort of our bed or living room. When we are anxious, home is a place of solace—a space to connect with ourselves and our families over a homecooked meal.  

It is difficult to imagine how we could weather the ups and downs of this pandemic without a home. But for many who have suffered a job loss, an illness, or another unexpected turn of events, homelessness is their reality. You or someone you know may be facing the same challenge. 

Before COVID-19 reached Calgary, nearly one in five households in our city struggled to pay for housing, spending over 30% of their income on shelter costs. We have made great strides to create a world where everyone has a home, but as our population grows, more than 100,000 households are forecast to be in housing need by 2025. Compared to other Canadian cities, Calgary falls behind when it comes to affordable housing, with an estimated 15,000 affordable units needed to reach the 2016 national average. 

On November 22, National Housing Day, we recognized how far we have come to improve access to housing. But we also reflect on the work that remains to be done to ensure housing is accessible to everyone. The day is especially significant as frigid winter temperatures threaten individuals and families without a home.  

With collective action and continued innovation, we know it is possible to create a future where no one becomes homeless in our city.  

That benefits us all. Not only is it the ethical thing to do, it makes economic sense: it costs 65 per cent less to house someone than it does to leave them without a home. We also know every $1 spent on housing people with supports saves between $1.17 to $2.84 in hospital and ER visits and interactions with the police, because people who are housed don’t need to interact with these services as frequently. In 2018-19, our province saved $105M as a result of this investment. 

Moreover, housing people with supports helps them address the factors that may have led to their experience of homelessness in the first place. This empowers them to move into the future as integral members of our community. 

Our work to connect Calgarians with a home would not be possible without the dedication of housing providers, including our housing collaborator HomeSpace Society, a charitable real estate developer that is giving individuals and families a fresh start. Together, we partner with agencies to provide supports that help residents integrate into the community and move onto a permanent home.  

We partner with government, agencies, faith-based communities, and individuals to create solutions for permanent housing. This year, we helped launch programs that swiftly moved people out of emergency shelters, and coordinated isolation spaces for individuals and families. With the unwavering dedication of many supporters and front-line workers throughout the pandemic, over 1,100 Calgarians now have a place to call home.  

But the fact remains, to end homelessness, we need homes. Our efforts cannot end here. Calgarians have always known that by working together—private, public and government—everyone can have the sanctuary they deserve. As we reach the end of the year, we hope you renew your commitment to support us in creating a world where homelessness never happens. Thank you for ensuring that everyone can put on a pot of tea in the place they call “home.” 

Calgary Herald Op-Ed submission by Patricia Jones, President and CEO, Calgary Homeless Foundation