News Items for March 24-April 06, 2017

  1. New role for shelters as region strives to end homelessness
  2. Is lack of affordable housing an issue where you live?
  3. Lessons from the past on a national housing strategy
  4. What homelessness looks like for women in Canada
  5. Homeless youth housing program ‘saved my life’: Edmonton man
  6. Moncton shelter taking in more people released from hospital
  7. Plan to End Homelessness a success
  8. Public washrooms on trailers could address Rogers Place playoff demand: Edmonton officials
  9. Rural Alberta asks for help for the ‘hidden homeless’
  10. Housing a right, not a reward, says housing first advocate

New role for shelters as region strives to end homelessness
CBC News March 24, 2017

Waterloo region wants to do whatever it can to keep people out of shelters. Under a new framework approved by regional council, emergency shelter workers will aim to get people who are facing homelessness into alternative housing rather than the shelter. “A number of things have changed over the years to say what is the goal of an emergency shelter? What’s the job that they do?” said Deb Schlichter, director of housing services. “Because we’re moving towards ending homelessness, how does the shelter system fit into that picture now that that’s our goal?” In the past, Schlichter said shelters were seen as places to house individuals who had no other place to go. Individuals who wanted to move from shelter into housing had to move through a series of stages. For example, a person might go from the street to a shelter to a transitional home to a supportive living arrangement and finally to regular housing. ‘Housing ready’ from the start

Waterloo regional councillors approved a new framework for the local shelter system with a goal of getting that brings it into line with federal and provincial priorities to end homelessness. Under the new framework, people are considered “housing ready” from the moment they step through the door of a shelter.  “You put them directly into housing, you put the right supports around them, and they can manage to live independently that way rather than having to go through that series of steps,” Schlichter said. Stable housing critical to success of mental health treatment

“That changes the whole role of shelter to be a temporary place for people to stop in and sort of land briefly and then sort of move from there to other housing options. It’s no longer the long-term housing option that it has become. “It doesn’t mean that nobody will ever be homeless again in the future, it just means that we will have a system in place [so that] when people become homeless, they’re in and out of homelessness very quickly.” Piloted approach in 2013. Schlichter said they already tested this approach in 2013 with families facing homelessness and found that it worked very well. In two years, the region was able to prevent about 350 families from staying in a shelter. “And then we said, well, if it worked with families, can we look at some other groups of people and see if we can use it perhaps for the really chronic homeless group,” she said. “We’ve put them directly into housing with financial assistance and extra supports, and they’re staying housed, surprisingly. People never thought that could happen, that this was a group that could actually get housing and keep housing and we’ve been able to do that locally.” She said housing services will release a report in early April into the impact of this housing first strategy on the chronically homeless in Waterloo region.

Is lack of affordable housing an issue where you live?
CBC News, March 26, 2017

The government has promised over $11 billion for a national housing strategy over 11 years. Critics say it’s too little, too slow. Is lack of affordable housing an issue where you live? With host Duncan McCue. It was the biggest ticket item in the federal budget: Canada’s Finance Minister, Bill Morneau, pledged 11.2 billion dollars for a national housing fund. The money will be rolled out over the next 11 years. But what does a national housing strategy mean in practice? And how will the money be used? How should it be used?

We’ve all heard about the rising cost of buying a home. But it’s much more basic than that. It’s a decent roof over your head. A place to call home. For decades municipalities across the country have been asking for help to deal with the shortage of affordable housing. 20 per cent of renters spend more than half their income on housing. And much of the existing housing stock is in need of repair. Three quarters of the rental buildings in Canada are more than 30 years old. If you’re hoping for subsidized housing get ready for a long waiting list. What about those who have no homes? Over 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness at some point every year. Some people are sleeping in shelters or on the street. They’re couch surfing or waiting unnecessarily in hospitals and other temporary accommodation. One in 5 Indigenous people living off reserve are homeless — or live in overcrowded, unsafe or inadequate housing. Is lack of affordable housing a problem where you live? What would you like to see in a national housing strategy? Should priority given to building new, affordable homes? Or should cities and municipalities focus on fixing up housing stock that’s in disrepair? Our question: Is lack of affordable housing an issue where you live?

Lessons from the past on a national housing strategy
The Public Forum for the Public Good, March 27, 2017
Greg Suttor

A National Housing Strategy must enable provinces and territories to shape programs to their varying needs and market realities. The federal government is currently making decisions on its promised National Housing Strategy, and its 2017 budget has announced the funding involved. It seems timely to ask: What can we learn from the history of social housing policy in Canada that is relevant today?

In the government’s election platform and budget, affordable housing is positioned as social infrastructure: a public good that calls for public investment. The underlying premise is that housing is a system that needs to be managed. If it’s left to chance, shortfalls and inequities result, with the biggest impact on young adults, newcomers, Indigenous people and some ethnoracial groups — all of whom are already disadvantaged in the labour market.

Housing is a wobbly pillar of social policy (as a housing wonk once said), and nowhere more so than in Canada. Most Canadians buy, sell and rent their housing in the market, and don’t see it as being part of infrastructure or social policy. Other more mainstream needs compete for the public dollar. On a per capita basis, the United States creates more subsidized rentals per year than we do, and offers far more subsidies to low-income private rental tenants. Canada’s peak period for social housing was a generation ago.

During the 2016 National Housing Strategy consultations, the strongest voices spoke about housing for low-income Canadians, a crunch that affects one in eight households. Many people use food banks to afford their rent, live in mouldy, overcrowded houses on First Nations reserves, or compete for crumbling apartments in down-market neighbourhoods.

One challenge in preparing a national housing strategy is to connect the issues faced by lower-income Canadians to middle-class concerns. Voters look to governments when the housing market appears out of kilter. In the 1970s, huge price increases and rental market pressures captured public attention. Today’s crazy house price escalation, which leaves many young adults unable to buy, is getting lots of media coverage. Municipal governments are grappling with homelessness and with postwar rental enclaves in disrepair. But public expectations for government action are far lower today than they were a generation ago, and the lower fiscal commitment today reflects this.

As I describe in my book Still Renovating: A History of Canadian Social Housing Policy (McGill-Queen’s). federal leadership created and sustained Canada’s affordable housing system at key points in our history. Federal programs built a lot of war-worker housing in the 1940s and some social housing in the 1950s, but the serious effort started in 1964. The same Pearson Liberal government that gave Canadians universal medicare and the Canada/Quebec Pension Plan funded and created a serious social housing program. In the 1970s, the federal government led again, shifting to a sustainable, mixed-income and community-based approach. And affordable housing was not a partisan matter: the key partner in the 1960s was Conservative-ruled Ontario; the 1970s programs had support across the spectrum; and the Mulroney Conservatives’ flexible federalism sustained this system in the 1980s. Federal retrenchment and devolution in the 1990s created the challenges we face today, and federally led housing initiatives between 2002 and 2015 softened the impact without reversing it.

Although it’s perhaps a contentious claim, housing is a shared federal-provincial sphere. While it is partly within the provincial constitutional sphere of property and civil rights, housing has huge impacts on Canada’s overall health, social welfare, and GDP. The biggest policy levers in the housing sphere are federal: monetary policy, mortgage insurance, and regulation that shape lending; tax law that shapes investment; and fiscal transfers, infrastructure and stimulus. To disconnect affordable rental housing from federal policy that structures the housing market is to make it a sideshow. Moreover, constitutions are about evolving practice, and in social housing there have been seven decades of federal-provincial arrangements.

The provinces and territories play central roles in delivering housing programs. This started with provincial housing corporations in the 1960s, broadened as they built policy capacity in the 1970s, and deepened in the 1980s. This was entrenched in the 1990s, when the federal government devolved program delivery to the provinces, and the three largest of them created big unilateral programs. Since 2000, affordable housing initiatives have involved flexible federal/provincial/territorial frameworks and offered a wide scope for provinces to shape their own programs. As the federal government signals in 2017 that it is re-entering direct delivery of housing programs, it needs to think carefully about how to collaborate with this dominant provincial role.

Federal leadership looks different indifferent periods, and today is not the era of Trudeau père. A National Housing Strategy must enable provinces and territories to shape programs to their varying needs and market realities, and it must be acceptable to Quebec. Some of the biggest needs are to sustain affordable rents and quality repairs in older social housing (provincial programs); to integrate affordable rental housing into urban development (a provincial sphere); and to help low-income people in private rental (where provinces regulate rents and fund housing allowances). A federal deal with municipalities, as some mayors have advocated, won’t cut it.  Meanwhile, the federal government doesn’t want to be just a back-door funder; it wants visibility and credit for spending its money and political capital.

A more cautionary lesson of history is about fiscal conditions. Making affordable housing a priority is easiest when tax revenue growth is strong.  This was evident in a positive way in the 1960s and 1970s, and in a negative way in the 1990s. Housing is expensive: a new rental unit in urban Canada costs about $200,000, and Canadian governments spend as much on rent-geared-to-income (RGI) subsidies as on the Guaranteed Income Supplement. But governments can debt-finance housing and pay off an investment over time, as households do, and historically this has been a central element of social housing policy. The federal government did not include loan financing in the housing initiatives of 2002 to 2015, but its 2017 budget announcements signal that it is moving to make this part of affordable housing policy again.

It’s important to approach housing as a system. Affordable housing is not about intrepid local groups doing a project here or there, with disjointed layers of public funding at different periods. It’s about implementing policies to sustain a system of capital funding, mortgages, and rent subsidies (plus support services for people with disabilities) on a scale that makes a difference. In the heyday of Canadian social housing from 1965 to 1990, 10 percent of total housing production was non-profit, public or co-operative. This magnitude was sufficient to house half the lowest-income segment of the roughly 170,000 households added in Canada each year, give people with low incomes decent options in the same neighbourhoods as middle-class Canadians lived in, and (by the 1980s) house many homeless people. The program initiatives that the federal government has now signalled for its National Housing Strategy fall far short of a return to the heyday, but they nudge Canada back in that direction.

What homelessness looks like for women in Canada
The Globe and Mail, March 29, 2017
By: Erin Anderssen

For eight months last year, Noreen Begoray lived in her silver 2006 Jeep Liberty, with her two little schipperke dogs, Gypsy and Kako. She parked near a dog park in Victoria with a view of the ocean – “The best space in town,” she says – and nobody bothered her. At night, she slept under blankets in the back, with the second-row seats laid flat. Kako slept curled up beside her. Gypsy preferred the front seat.

Begoray ate peanut butter sandwiches and broccoli, and shared her food with the dogs. She showered at the YMCA, and “peed all over town,” searching out public washrooms and 24-hour convenience stores. But she was protected from the weather and safe behind locked doors at night. “It wasn’t that bad,” she says. “I would see people sleeping on the street and in the bushes, and I would joke and tell people, ‘I am the elite of the homeless.’”

At 61, Begoray, who is single, found herself laid off from her teaching job at the University of Victoria, and evicted from her apartment. Begoray doesn’t have children; the dogs are her closest family, and she refused to give them up, which made finding housing harder, although she did rely on the hospitality of friends for a time. At one point, she considered answering an ad to share an apartment, but decided she felt safer in her car.

Homelessness has tended to stereotype: a scruffy patron of the sidewalk, an alcoholic or a drug addict, begging for change – and, notably, male. None of this describes Begoray, which is why women like her may fall through the cracks of a system designed to treat the chronically homeless. Begoray doesn’t have a serious mental illness or an addiction, which might have helped her queue-jump into certain programs. She wasn’t fleeing a violent relationship – as are many women who find themselves homeless – so she couldn’t go to a women’s shelter, most of which, especially in cities, are already overloaded with families. And she’s single, when priority for affordable housing goes to mothers with children, though even they may have to wait years to get it.

Roughly 200,000 Canadians end up homeless each year, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada. But like other women who live in their cars, or couch-surf with friends, or are extending their stay in women’s shelters because they have nowhere else to go, Begoray may not be counted among those statistics – not unless the counters knocked on the window of her Jeep.

The money committed in last month’s federal budget is meant to bring those homeless numbers down, while also improving conditions for Canadians living in aged, dilapidated social-housing units, or searching fruitlessly for affordable rentals. After years of funding shortfalls, housing and homeless advocates cheered the news: Ottawa has promised to spend more than $11.2-billion. This includes money for a national housing fund, federal-provincial agreements, programs targeted to the homeless and housing money for northern and Indigenous Canadians on- and off-reserve. As well, Ottawa has promised to extend “baseline funding” for lease agreements that, between the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and affordable-housing providers, were due to expire.

That most of those dollars will be sprinkled like change into a homeless person’s hat over the next 11 years (and well past the current Liberal mandate) was disheartening. But it’s more money than the issue has seen in a long time, especially after Harper government cuts. Now comes the challenge: how to spend it wisely, and equitably, so all the paths to homelessness and precarious housing are accounted for.

For instance, those who focus on housing issues for poor women are often critical of Ottawa’s focus on Housing First as a homelessness strategy. Housing First is a successful and cost-effective program being used around the world that gets long-time homeless people off the street by putting them in apartments and bringing social services to them. But a national report on the program found that only 32 per cent of Housing First beneficiaries were women.

Meanwhile, women’s shelters have struggled financially to provide their own gender-specific services: legal aid, trauma counselling, access to child care, housing that safeguards women from violent partners. In some cases, since shelters were not seen as permanent housing, they didn’t qualify for government money. When financial support was provided, it might only cover physical structures – leaving second-stage shelters, which provide individual apartments with support staff and security features, to scrounge for money to cover costs of those services.

Even when money is made available, care has to be taken to distribute it fairly, says Lise Martin, executive director of Women’s Shelters Canada. For example, Martin says, when the 2016 budget committed $90-million over two years for shelter renovation and construction, the money was dispersed between the provinces and territories based on population, meaning that the three territories saw only $500,000 each – an amount that failed to account for need and the high construction costs facing shelters in Canada’s north. (In this year’s budget, $525-million was set aside for Indigenous and northern housing.)

Because subsidized housing units are in short supply, women often feel pressured to take what’s offered, even risking being found by an abusive spouse. This is what happened to “Maryam,” an Iranian immigrant in British Columbia, who asked that her real name not be used for fear of her safety.

After escaping her abusive husband, Maryam and her adult daughter stayed at a local women’s shelter for months even though, technically, stays are only supposed to last four weeks. Many women stay much longer because they don’t have other options, forcing shelters to turn away other clients. “What are we going to do?” says Pany Aghili, executive director of Dixon Transition Society in Burnaby, B.C. “Put women on the street?”

When a subsidized unit became available, Maryam took it even though it was close to her ex-husband’s work – turn down a spot, and you may not get another. She and her daughter endured a rodent problem, but when he was seen in the neighbourhood, asking around for her location, they moved back to the shelter. “It is safe and we are secure here,” Maryam says. Eventually, though, she will need to move out of the shelter. “If he finds us again, we will have to run away again.”

This is why several provinces are experimenting with portable-housing subsidies, which allow women to subsidize the rent of a place they find themselves. That’s not always easy: Some landlords will turn away low-income tenants, and even with a subsidy, rents can be too high in cities such as Toronto or Vancouver. Research also shows that when housing costs force single moms farther from downtown cores, employment opportunities are narrowed by transit commutes and child-care options. Another policy option, being used in London, England, is to require condo developers to provide a certain percentage of subsidized units in new developments. Not only does this create units in better locations, it’s also preferable to clumping low-income families together, as if they are a homogeneous social problem to be set outside the rest of middle-class society.

Social housing should exist in a well-designed system that recognizes the diversity of Canadians in need: people with disabilities, single moms who need employment and childcare, women escaping violence, homeless people struggling with complex health problems. In addition to the new money, the Liberals deserve credit for moving forward on a National Housing Strategy, a National Strategy to Address Gender-Based Violence and creating an Advisory Council on Homelessness. To be effective, all that “strategizing” needs to produce a comprehensive plan, and set clear goals, including gender balance.

Otherwise, women such as Maryam and Begoray are left to rely on lucky breaks. In Begoray’s case, help came after a call to Robyn Spilker, the constituency assistant to MLA Rob Fleming in Victoria. Spilker connected Begoray with a non-profit that is helping her cover rent in a studio apartment that would take her dogs. She is now living there, scraping by on assistance, but covering her rent. She’s been accepted into a government employment program and is looking for work. As of this week, she was still sleeping on the floor, but on the hunt for a cheap mattress.

Homeless youth housing program ‘saved my life’: Edmonton man
Global News, March 29, 2017
By: Kendra Slugoski

You may not find them sleeping on park benches, or lined up at soup kitchens but the number of homeless youth in Edmonton is cause for concern. Susan McGee with Homeward Trust Edmonton said youth referrals to the Youth Housing First program have been coming in faster than they can keep up. Since the program started in July 2016, the program has received 214 referrals and housed 71 youth. “Many of us have children, many of us have teenagers and those can be tough years for any family,” McGee said. The Youth Housing First program primarily houses homeless people between the ages of 16 and 25, but some youth on the street are as young as 12. The youngest teen in the program is 15. The recent homeless count estimated a couple hundred youth living without a permanent home, but McGee said that’s not a true picture. “Youth tend to be couch surfers,” she said, “so they’re more difficult to catch in something like a homeless count.” Nigel was one of those couch surfers who went from house to house for seven months, but his first stint of homelessness started when he was only 15. He had once attended university and had trying going back to school; a near impossible task with no home and drinking himself into “oblivion.” Nigel learned about the Youth Housing First program through a friend, and has lived in his own apartment for the past six months. He credits the program and his support worker with saving his life. “I’ve known the lowest denomination for years now,” he said from his apartment. “You just become obsessed with yourself. You’re willing to steal – to do the most horrendous properties that come along with human behaviour.” Support workers negotiate a rental rate and provide a subsidy for the youth. Over the next nine months, they connect their client to supports that will help them with addictions, mental health and legal issues. Once settled, they then work on day-to-day living like accessing the food bank or finding a day care. The end goal is to encourage the youth to find a job or go back to school. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Nigel plans to attend college in the fall.  “I want to transcend my pain, I want to fix my pain. I want to evolve beyond the point of pain.” Nigel admits every day is still a struggle with drugs and alcohol, but for the first time in a long time, he sees a future. “When you accommodate the ones that are suffering and the ones that are in a difficult situation when they’re super young, then they might have a future.”

Moncton shelter taking in more people released from hospital. ‘We have a number of people trying to access a finite amount of resources,’ says House of Nazareth official
CBC News, March 29, 2017

A temporary emergency shelter in Moncton is seeing an increase in the number of people released from the hospital with nowhere else to go, a co-ordinator for the facility says. The House of Nazareth’s Joe Leger explained that the release of people who have been receiving psychiatric care is “tricky,” as those individuals need to find group, special care or peer-supported housing, and that takes time. “We have a number of people trying to access a finite amount of resources,” Leger said Wednesday on CBC’s Information Morning Moncton. The Greater Moncton Homeless Steering Committee stated Tuesday there was a seven per cent decrease in shelter use in Moncton in 2016. The group’s tenth annual report card on homelessness will be available April 3 on its website. Leger corroborated those findings on Wednesday.

Length of stay increasing

“We’re seeing the numbers static, but they are decreasing, but we do see the length of stay slightly increasing and that can be attributed to a number of factors,” he said. “We see a slight elevation in seniors that are using the shelter.” Often, people that use shelters have addiction and mental health issues, he said. “So, we’re seeing an increase in those people being released sort of from the care of hospital into the shelter.” Given the lack of resources, these people are increasingly staying longer than what the House of Nazareth has prepared for in its mandate, he said. “So the challenge becomes trying to find a more permanent solution with the proper support for people that have been released — for example, from the hospital,” Leger said. Hospital workers are hardworking and lovely people, he said, but releasing people who have no place to go “does create a challenge for us on the frontline.”

Housing First model

The co-ordinator said the Housing First model, which attempts to move homeless people into independent and permanent housing quickly and then provide additional supports, is “absolutely” helpful, adding that it has achieved success across the country. Unlike more traditional homelessness strategies, which prioritize health care, this model — as its name suggests — starts instead with housing. “Once they’re stable, we build the supports around that,” Leger said, noting that the program has achieved success in a handful of Canadian cities and is now moving into Moncton. “I think those are the type of solutions that we have to look for and are working.” As provincial and federal government initiatives shift toward skills-based programs and programs that prioritize housing, “We are definitely going to see a decrease in homelessness.”

Finding affordable housing

Explaining the difficulty of finding affordable housing in Moncton, Leger pointed again to a finite number of resources. “As we deal with homelessness and areas and places where they can go and be housed on a more permanent basis, it is difficult,” he said. The House of Nazareth hopes that, as it enters “more sustainable” partnerships in Moncton, the shelter will see a greater number of rooms and apartments open for its clients. Having reached out to the provincial government and the private sector, Leger said “they’re all coming together” and that the response has been encouraging. Meanwhile, due to an increase in public awareness and a positive change in perceptions of mental health issues, the already-generous community has become “extremely helpful” as it relates to the shelter’s finances, volunteer needs and goals.

Plan to End Homelessness a success
Edmonton Sun, March 31, 2017
By: Graham Hicks

Whichever way you look at it – financial, moral, compassionate – the city-led, mostly provincially funded 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness launched by then-Mayor Steve Mandel in 2009 has been a success. You can look at numbers until your brain is spinning, but a few big ones stand out. Since 2009, Homeward Trust – the umbrella organization coordinating housing and social programs in Edmonton for the homeless – says 6,000 formerly homeless individuals have been housed. Two-thirds of those helped were considered to be chronically without shelter. The annual 2016 Homeless Count – the best measurement available – was 1,752 people. The 2014 count was about 2,170. The count in 2008 was about 2,500. Had no action been taken, the 2009 report suggests the homeless count could have jumped to 8,500 by 2018.Many tax dollars have been spent on this effort. Homeward Trust’s 2015 budget was $44.6 million for building new housing units, rent subsidies and social programs. While difficult to quantify, housing the homeless is a rather obvious and excellent use of tax dollars. On compassionate grounds alone, 6,000 people who’d otherwise be in dire circumstances are now living with dignity in warm, clean apartments or homes. Their individual problems are being treated, thanks to professional and volunteer assistance. One reassuring statistic: Of those housed since 2009, 80% remained housed 12 months later. In other words, decent housing and assistance has helped them to stay off the streets. I began my research with a business frame-of-mind. On the savings side of the ledger, I wanted to know the actual, measurable police, ambulance and hospital savings that have accompanied this reduction in the actual number of Edmontonians living on the street. When the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness was launched in 2009, various estimates of not doing anything ran from $50,000 to $100,000 per homeless individual per year, based on ambulance use, police calls and hospital stays. Nailing down actual savings to the Edmonton Police Service and the health system, I have concluded, is near impossible to determine. There are too many variables. But an old axiom of social assistance still holds true. Spending never actually drops, because, with improvements, the standard of care (and hence expense) rises. What’s saved is re-directed to other social-net weaknesses, such as better care for the mentally ill, specialized seniors’ housing, etc. Homeward Trust itself has moved on to a deeper level of ending homelessness, with programs addressing the needs of families, teens and indigenous people. The original 10-Year Plan To End-Homelessness wisely made no projection of societal savings, other than a cautious statement that the total cost of additional social housing and expanded social services would be “slightly less” than the cost of maintaining the status quo. Many will argue the measures taken to end homeless in Edmonton are not enough, that the current waiting list for housing and support services shouldn’t be at 1,190 individuals (down from 1,603 a year ago) but should be negligible by now, eight years into the 10 year plan. I would answer, given the complexity of the issue, that this housing effort has worked very, very well. Every single individual helped has a unique set of emotional, mental and physical circumstances to be addressed. Getting landlords on board is a Herculean effort. Actually building new social housing involves countless committees and numerous bureaucracies before a shovel turns. The fact that the initiative is alive and well, actually stronger than ever, speaks to its success. Would that governments treat supportive housing not as a want, but as a basic need – as embedded in the budget process as education and health care. As Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson pointed out, the latest federal promise (if kept) of $1.1 billion a year over 10 years towards affordable and social housing across Canada, is important. Past provincial governments have been erratic, from year to year, in supporting “non-market housing”. The current Alberta government, from its Seniors and Housing Ministry’s five-year business plan, appears prepared to provide a steady stream of decent funding for supportive housing. May future governments be so resolved. Well-planned and well-executed supportive housing programs serve us all.

Public washrooms on trailers could address Rogers Place playoff demand: Edmonton officials
Edmonton Sun, April 03, 2017
By: Elise Stolte

Downtown residents dealing with smelly back alleys after Rogers Place concerts and Edmonton Oilers games might soon see relief. City officials are hoping portable washroom trailers can give fans with full bladders a sanitary alternative.  “We’re in the playoffs now,” Mayor Don Iveson said Monday, pushing for a quick investment in addition to a long-term citywide plan. “There’s an urgency where issues are most acute. … I don’t want to wait a year for a strategy.” Last year, 120 people were given $500 fines for urinating in public, with downtown seeing fines issued double in number to 52. Residents blame that on Rogers Place patrons, saying back alleys are extra smelly after games and concerts, but also on a lack of facilities for the homeless. That’s a long-standing issue. Edmonton tried providing un-manned port-a-potties in the McCauley neighbourhood, but ended up with dealing with too many discarded syringes and other issues. A permanent facility off Whyte Avenue cost $530,000. Many large cities provide small kiosks in high-density areas for tourists, the homeless and other members of the public. Some are even self-washing, but all struggle with maintenance and some are more expensive in winter climates, said city staff in a presentation to council’s community services committee Monday. The temporary trailers costs about $12,000 a month to operate, including an attendant. A smaller, permanent kiosk costs anywhere from $300,000 to $450,000, depending on how complex it is to hook up the infrastructure, said Jeff Chase, a city planning director working on the file. Human rights issue. Iveson said if Edmonton goes with a distributed kiosk model around downtown, the cost could likely be covered by the downtown revitalization levy — a pocket of money funded through increased property taxes around Rogers Place. It would be counted as street furniture. Coun. Scott McKeen called it a “human rights issue.” Some people don’t want public washrooms in their neighbourhood for fear it will attract crime, disorder and people who are homeless, he said. “But so-called less-than-desirable people don’t have access to restaurants and other facilities with washrooms like the rest of us do.” Tourists and bar patrons also need to relieve themselves sometimes. That’s affecting downtown. “The place stinks the next day and I just think we could do better,” McKeen said. Citywide washroom plan. Councillors also asked administration to develop a citywide public washroom master plan, considering parks and public spaces across the city. That report is due in early 2018. Coun. Ed Gibbons said whatever works in the downtown area should also go to 118 Avenue, especially since most homeless people getting a $500 fine can’t pay. “This is ticket after ticket,” he said. “We really have to step forward with this. … (These aren’t cheap), but we’re a big city.”

Rural Alberta asks for help for the ‘hidden homeless’
CBC News, April 4, 2016

You don’t often see people pushing around shopping carts or sleeping on park benches in Alberta’s rural communities, but things are still desperate for some who don’t have anywhere to call home. “A lot of the homelessness in rural communities is hidden, so it’s not what you might typically see in the city,” Dee Ann Benard, executive director of the Alberta Rural Development Network, said Monday. The group, which administers all federal funding for rural homelessness in Alberta, is holding a conference in Nisku on Tuesday to shine a light on the issue. “These are people who are living in their cars, living out in the bush, or in substandard housing, maybe without heat or running water,” said Benard. There are no official numbers yet to show exactly how many people are homeless in rural Alberta, but Benard said times are tough for many living outside of the seven largest urban centres, which are well equipped to deal with the issue. “We know that there is homelessness in probably every single rural community in Alberta,” she said.  That’s true in Drayton Valley, southwest of Edmonton, where a local church has run a mat program for the last few years. The program provides a place to stay overnight for people without any shelter. Twenty-three people have used it. The town’s homelessness and poverty reduction coordinator, Emily Hickman, is one of the speakers at the conference. “We also know there are people who are homeless who never access the mat program,” Hickman said. One of the big barriers many face, she said, is the initial cost of rent in addition to the damage deposit landlords ask for. Knowing that the first payment could be more than $1,000, the town has been able to offer rent assistance through a federal grant. While as many as 35 people have been able to take advantage of the grant since March 2016 to get into housing, Hickman said Drayton Valley is looking at other ideas. Investment in housing still a pressing need. One idea she’ll be presenting Tuesday is the proposal for a 20-space community hostel, which would provide the most affordable housing for those who need it. It’s still in the planning stage. Hickman hopes to get approval for next steps from town council in the summer. In the meantime, Benard is hoping rural areas will get a share of affordable-housing funding that was recently announced by the provincial and federal governments. She said an increase in federal funding to her organization is already helping connect people to important housing and employment services across rural Alberta. The province said of the $1.2 billion earmarked for affordable housing over the next five years, 60 per cent will go to projects in rural Alberta. Benard is hoping the conference in Nisku will help rural communities build an action plan to deal with a growing problem. “People are starting to realize that there is an issue in rural communities with respect to homelessness,” she said, “but they don’t really know how to approach it.”

Housing a right, not a reward, says housing first advocate
Thompson Citizen, April 5, 2017
By: Ian Graham

Getting homeless people off the street and into permanent housing is not impossible, but it requires the people who provide service to homeless people, as well as society as a whole, to look at the problem from different angles, Wally Czech told about 10 people at an information session in Thompson March 28. A member of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness’s (CAEH) training and technical assistance team, Czech is a clinical psychology therapist and previously served as the City of Lethbridge’s housing first specialist. Housing first, which has been adopted in Thompson in the form of Project Northern Doorway, simplifies the question of how to end homelessness in the most obvious of ways: putting homeless people in housing. But to do it properly, service agencies often have to change the way they do things. And, even then, it isn’t a magic bullet to end the problem of homelessness, which exists because the demand for affordable housing exceeds the supply. On any given night in Canada, Czech said, 35,000 people are homeless and a total of 235,000 will experience periods of homelessness over the course of the year. But the interactions these people have with emergency medical services, the police, hospitals and mental health specialists cost $7 billion per year in Canada – simply to maintain the status quo. Czech said every $10 spent on support services for people before they get to this point can result in almost $22 in savings. Housing first, which reverses the classic approach to dealing with homeless people in which they are expected to make progress on their mental health and addiction problems before they can get into permanent housing, not only reduces the number of homeless people, but usually results in cost savings, too. In Thompson, says Canadian Mental Health Association and Thompson Homeless Shelter executive director Paullette Simkins, it costs $68 per night to put someone up in the shelter but only $30 per night for those in transitional or permanent housing. As Czech pointed out, a common perception is that people who are on the streets are there because of mental illness, addiction and poor choices. In reality, those are the visible symptoms and the root causes include education, health, the justice system, the housing market, employment issues, poverty, trauma and the government child protection system. In Alberta, he said, 43 per cent of homeless people were in government care as children, while the total number of children in care in that province is about one per cent of the population. People who have experienced neglect are 13 times more likely than the population at large to experience homelessness, while physical abuse increases the likelihood 16 times and sexual abuse about 1.7 times. Those who have experienced more than one of those things are 26 times more likely to experience homelessness in their lifetimes. “To begin to end this problem we have to change our perspective about how we see these individuals,” Czech said. “They’re in the position that they’re in for things that are not their fault. These people didn’t choose to be homeless. They are all there because of the impacts of things, for the most part, our system has created.” He also noted that there are varying categories of homeless people, about 80 per cent of whom are transitionally homeless, with another 10 to 15 per cent episodically homeless at various points in their life and only five to 10 per cent chronically homeless. These latter two groups, said Czech, are the people at home the housing first concept is aimed. Under the traditional view of how to get people with addictions and mental health issues off the streets, types of housing of greater and greater permanence are doled out for achievements such as getting treatment for their addictions or mental health problems, but Czech said that does not take into account that recovery is rarely a linear process and that traditional addiction treatment programs that require abstinence from alcohol or substance use only work about five per cent of the time. Despite that, when people relapse, they go back to the beginning of the journey towards permanent housing. Nevertheless, he told participants, we all know people with addictions and mental health problems who manage to successfully maintain a place to live. One thing housing first should not be, Czech said, is a freebie. “People need to pay rent,” he said, up to a maximum of 30 per cent of their income. “We believe everybody is housing-ready,” said Czech. “All people, regardless of circumstances, with proper supports can improve their lives. We have to believe that people can change given the proper supports.” There’s no way to predict who will be successful in a housing first model and who will not, though Czech said 80 to 90 per cent of people in such programs will stay housed. The reason why the people who are considered hardest to house are best suited for housing first programs are because they are the ones causing the biggest drain on resources by remaining on the streets and because they are at the most at risk. “We prioritize the most complex individuals closest to dying on the street,” he said.