By: Joel Sinclair

Significant advances in the battle against homelessness are being won. Since 2008, and the implementation of Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness, the average number of nightly stays by single adults in Calgary emergency shelters has fallen by 40%.

A Noted Downward Trend

Shelter Stays Graph

Analysis published today by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy clearly illustrates an encouraging downward trend in the use of emergency shelters by single adults. In fact, as much as there is variation in the chart within any given year, the year-over-year number of shelter stays observed has been continually shrinking. This is good news.

Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness was launched in 2008 by a multi-stakeholder leadership group with the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) appointed as the implementer. Since then, Calgary has become a leader in the charge to end homelessness and our city’s homeless-serving community’s grounded approach in the Housing First model has become a world standard for addressing the chronic issues of homelessness in a collaborative, data-driven and forward-thinking way.

Factors to Progress

Factors that have contributed to this downward trend have been noted by Nick Falvo (CHF’s Director of Research and Data), as well as Ron Kneebone and Margarita Wilkins (both with the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy)

“Housing First has always been a core component of Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness, and our primary focus on housing people with supports reduces the pressure on Calgary’s shelters,” says Diana Krecsy, President and CEO of CHF. “In concert with that, our city’s homeless-serving system of care has continually focused on creating greater housing stability for our clients. Continuous advancements and refinements in program design and measurement have resulted in constant improvements in housing retention, allowing us to achieve an annual housing retention rate of 91% – which means that fewer people are falling back into homelessness or having to rely on the shelter system.”

In addition to Calgary’s homeless-serving community’s successful implementation and execution of these core aspects of Calgary’s Plan, we should also consider the impact that the following components have had on contributing to this downward trend:

Better Triaging: Addressing the needs of our city’s most vulnerable through ground-breaking triage programs such as Coordinated Access and Assessment also means that our clients are moving straight into housing programs and remaining stably housed.

Rental market fluctuation. When rental vacancy rates are high, landlords are often more eager to rent units, as it becomes a ‘renter’s market.’ High vacancy rates in Calgary over the past two years have therefore made it easier for persons experiencing homelessness to access rental units in our city.

Social assistance benefit levels. Benefit levels for Alberta social assistance recipients have increased since 2008.  For example, total annual income received by a ‘single employable’ household receiving social assistance jumped by more than 30% in 2009; and the total annual income for a single adult receiving Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped increased by 30% between 2011 and 2013. Higher incomes have made it easier for persons experiencing homelessness (or people on the verge of experiencing homelessness) to access and maintain rental housing.

What’s next?

With the goal of ending homelessness in our city, it’s vital that, as a community, we continue to focus on increased coordination and collaboration across our homeless-serving system of care. It’s also important that we continue to foster greater integration with ‘big system’ public service care providers.

For agencies at the front line, seeing the positive, measurable results of their efforts founded in data and research matters a great deal.

“We have to give kudos to the shelters in Calgary. They are a vital part of Calgary’s Homeless-Serving System of Care, and we have some really amazing shelters that are serving people when they are in need”, says Krecsy, “The shelters are our emergency department, and they need to be there. But we must also focus on the group of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness – people who have been in there a long time – and get them into the housing and supports they need.”

We have made notable progress in ending homelessness in Calgary, but we can do more. To reach our collective goal we must continue to do the great work we are all doing together, until everyone has a home.