From the early 1990’s to 2006, Calgary had Canada’s fastest growing population of people experiencing homelessness.
Businessman and philanthropist Art Smith founds Calgary Homeless Foundation.
CALGARY COMMUNITY LAND TRUST
Calgary Community Land Trust (CCLT), a part of Calgary Homeless Foundation, owns 10 affordable housing units. CCLT later becomes HomeSpace Society.
PATHWAYS TO HOUSING
Calgary Homeless Foundation launches Housing First program with The Alex.
THE 10 YEAR PLAN
Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness is launched. Thanks to the Plan, nearly 10,000 individuals are housed and 2,184 new housing program spaces are created, decreasing homelessness by 32% per capita and emergency shelter use by 35%.
HOMELESS MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEM
In 2011, the Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) is unveiled.
SYSTEM PLANNING FRAMEWORK
Under the system planning framework, the system of care for people experiencing homelessness is strengthened by coordinating the HMIS, performance management and quality assurance.
CALGARY COLLABORATIVE CAPITAL CAMPAIGN
The Calgary Collaborative Capital Campaign becomes the first-of-its-kind collaboration with 9 partner agencies, including Calgary Homeless Foundation, working together to raise the capital to create affordable housing with support services for homeless Calgarians. At the campaign’s conclusion on March 31, 2018, $74 million had been raised, enough to provide 1,850 Calgarians with a home.
TOGETHER TO ZERO
In 2018, Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness ends, and a new plan called Together to Zero is launched.
This plan, created with community, unveils new strategic directives for the homeless-serving system, including the goal of ensuring that homelessness never happens, or if it does, if it s a brief and non-recurring episode in a person’s life.
Calgary Homeless Foundation was founded in 1998 when local philanthropist Arthur “Art” R. Smith joined forces with agencies, corporations, and governments to create an organization that would serve the rapidly growing number of people experiencing homelessness in the city.
Thanks to a generous gift from Ralph Klein, then-premier of Alberta, we opened our doors in the historic McDougall Centre—a former school and one of the first major public buildings in the province.
From the outset, Calgary Homeless Foundation was envisioned as an umbrella organization. It would coordinate programs and policies across the homeless-serving sector, increase housing, educate the public about homelessness and change policies to better serve Indigenous peoples.
As a result, our first task was to investigate and increase public awareness about the extent of the homelessness crisis in Calgary. At the time, the city had the fastest-growing population of people experiencing homelessness in Canada, with numbers jumping 31% every two years.
In 2000, we unveiled a report called Housing Our Homeless. The report identified eight sectors of the homeless population, including families, domestic violence survivors, seniors, and those living with substance use issues. It concluded that each sector required a tailored response to address their unique needs.
We then took steps to transform our work into a community-wide movement. In 2002, we launched the Calgary Community Land Trust, and by the end of three years, the trust was managing and held title to 10 affordable housing units.
In a 2006 Calgary Herald editorial entitled “A New Strategy to End Homelessness,” we also called on the community to help people experiencing homelessness, including children, teenagers and women, noting that the government alone could not solve the problem.
In 2007, we adopted the philosophy that housing is a right, as well as a compassionate and necessary condition to ending homelessness for individuals with serious mental illnesses, substance use issues and long histories of homelessness.
This philosophy, called Housing First, came to the attention of Calgary Homeless Foundation through Sam Tsemberis, an American advocate in communities looking to end homelessness.
As part of the Calgary Committee to End Homelessness, we worked with Tsemberis and local agency The Alex to launch Pathways to Housing, which was a resounding economic and housing success.
Under its Housing First approach, people experiencing homelessness were housed and their use of public services was reduced: by 2011, there was a 67% reduction in police interactions and a 37% drop in EMS calls. Half of the clients in the program were also involved in a vocational or educational activity and 94% retained their housing.
Our Plan to End Homelessness
Building on our Housing First philosophy, Calgary Homeless Foundation launched the city’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness in 2008—the same year that founder, Arthur Smith, passed away.
The Plan made the Housing First philosophy central to our work. Over time, we understood Housing First could not be “housing only” and that it must be an approach that places people first by recognizing their unique needs and providing them with a home, as well as support to help them maintain housing stability.
We went on to apply Housing First to other initiatives that supported a broader movement to end homelessness in our city. These initiatives included The Plan to End Aboriginal Homelessness and the Youth Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.
The 10 Year Plan was also the springboard for us to innovate and help transform the city’s homeless-serving system of care.
One of our key innovations was the development of Homeless-Serving System Planning to improve coordination between agencies. Instead of monitoring individual organizations or programs, we manage and map the performance and interactions of different service providers in the city, so that resources can delivered effectively and efficiently to those who need them most.
In 2011, we unveiled a revolutionary database known as the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). Thanks to data sharing agreements with local shelters, the HMIS allows for unprecedented analysis of homelessness in our city: it shows what is happening in the community in real time and enables us to analyze long-term patterns in the population experiencing homelessness.
Launching the HMIS was a huge challenge, but our advances have encouraged all orders of government to make critical capital and program investments and marked Calgary as a leader in the movement to end homelessness in Canada.
In 2013, we also helped create the Coordinated Access & Assessment (CAA) system, a process that links clients to the right supports at the right time. Before the 10 Year Plan, there was no way to assess and prioritize clients for programs and supports; now, we can triage clients quickly and connect them to help.
The introduction of the CAA also coincided with the establishment of the Safe Communities Opportunity and Resource Centre, or SORCe, a multi-partner initiative and key downtown access point for services and referrals. that is led by the Calgary Police Service.
To tie it all together, we developed the first System Planning Framework in collaboration with community partners. The Framework brings the HMIS, system and program-level performance management, service planning, and quality assurance together to achieve an impact that can be felt at the community level in Calgary.
The scope of this work cannot be understated: It took significant goodwill and commitment from agencies and government to undertake this work.
Our Community Ties
From the beginning, the strong voice of people experiencing homelessness has been a factor in every decision made by Calgary Homeless Foundation. In 2012, we made it official and created the Client Action Committee (CAC).
The CAC consists of members with lived experience of homelessness. They consult with the sector and provide information that has been instrumental to our success. The CAC has also spearheaded several key initiatives, such as the Homeless Charter of Rights and the coordination of the first Canadian polling station in a shelter at the Calgary Drop In & Rehab Centre.
In 2012, we joined community leaders and eight other local non-profits to launch the Calgary Collaborative Capital Campaign. The campaign was a strategic effort to drive investment in the construction of additional permanent supportive housing in our city, building on existing government investment dollars and the efforts of the larger community.
In it together
Calgary Homeless Foundation has never existed in a vacuum. Economic booms and busts, record highs in migration, and shortfalls in capital for programs all play a role in how we carry out our essential work.
Yet, we continue to strive forward. In 2017, we moved to our new home in Rocky Mountain Plaza and continue to make significant progress towards our goals, building a legacy based on the lessons of the past.
As a result of our efforts, we have reduced homelessness by 32% per capita in Calgary and are proud of to the count the following among our achievements:
housed 9,707 people experiencing chronic and episodic homelessness
built 558 dedicated permanent supportive units
created more than 2,184 new housing program spaces
decreased emergency shelter use by approximately 35%
It hasn’t always been easy, but our collective goal keeps us moving forward and together—with community, agencies, and government—we will continue to chart a path towards the day when homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring: perhaps an episode in someone’s life, but never a condition that defines one’s life.