You joined the team at Calgary Homeless Foundation, or CHF, during a transformational time. Can you share your personal journey, including what inspired you to lead the team at CHF?
Transitioning from a 27-year career in family service was not a decision I made lightly, but I was inspired by the work of CHF and the opportunity to impact those most vulnerable at a system level. Although I have been in the nonprofit sector for many years, I hadn’t had very much experience serving those experiencing homelessness. I have been grateful for the challenge and the learning.
As you reflect on this past year, what accomplishments are you most proud of and what are your key learnings?
Wow, the year went so fast! What am I most proud of? Some days, just getting through and understanding the acronyms! In all seriousness, I am proud of getting to know the work of the teams and the people on them (virtually), working together with community to develop a clear purpose and ambition, and, within the year, delivering our updated strategic plan, Focus to 2025.
I am grateful to have met each CEO in our system of care, and I continue to learn from them. I am grateful for the relationships developed with the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada.
One key learning is the depth and breadth of expertise in our community, which has a deep understanding that ‘one size does NOT fit all’ with human beings. The continuum of supports for those experiencing homelessness—from paying a damage deposit, liaising with the health system, palliative care, helping someone stabilize for a short period of time, and then getting back out there, to those who need intense longer-term supports to be housed—is truly inspiring.
I strongly believe that as a community, it is not OK that someone does not have a home. It is our collective responsibility to lift up our neighbors, and the Coordinated Access and Assessment approach—with 23 agencies meeting weekly with us to ensure everyone has a home and a barrier-free, humane experience in reaching it—is collaboration and partnership at is finest.
Why is guiding the fight against homelessness meaningful to you?
Every word in our purpose was carefully chosen and the result of over 75 conversations with the board, staff, and the community at large.
“Fight” is a strong word, and intentionally so, as I believe some fights are worth entering into. Fighting against the concept called “homelessness” is an honourable fight, because we do not want anyone to experience it as part of this journey we call life.
This purpose comes alive ONLY through collaboration with many people, as a result of conversations and relationships built through trust. CHF is a participant in a much bigger system and the word ‘guiding’ was very intentional, conjuring up for me the visual of a wise mountain guide, leading the way, who has a deep grasp of the complicating factors that impact someone without a home. With this knowledge and earned relationships in the community, we hope to add value by identifying what works and what doesn’t in support of all Calgarians finding their way home.
As we look ahead to the upcoming year and beyond, what are your primary areas of focus? How will this have an impact on those at risk of or experiencing homelessness? All Calgarians?
We are excited to launch our strategic plan to September 2025 and to work together with the community to continue allocating resources for the highest impact and outcomes. We pair this action with an appetite for out-of-the-box thinking so we can continue to improve access and outcomes for those who are often in the darkest moments of their lives.
We continue to reach out, listen to and learn from Indigenous leaders so we can offer our support for an Indigenous-centric homeless serving system of care, and we will continue to co-create with community an evaluation and learning culture through a recovery lens.
Do you have anything more that you would like to share?
Throughout the past year, I’ve asked myself more than once, “What was I thinking, leaving a secure job in the middle of a pandemic to enter into a world in which I knew very little?” But the work of CHF, the high competency of staff, their absolute commitment to every Calgarian finding their way home with the supports they need, and the privilege of a system-level view compelled me to join this amazing organization. I was not leaving my job, but rather going to something very exciting. It has been a pleasure and a privilege and I would not have missed it for the world.
I am grateful for the CHF board, the depth and expertise of each CHF staff member, our government partners, health partners, our housing partner Homespace Society, and the non-profit community for their generosity and kindness to me in the past year and their willingness to work together for a world in which homelessness may be an unfortunate experience in one’s life but never the enduring feature.