Calgary’s housing-first model could help end N.B. homelessness
In 2006, people found themselves literally tripping over homeless people in Calgary.
The city had the fastest growing rate of homelessness in Canada, jumping from about 447 homeless people in 1992 to 3,601 in 2006. The problem was so bad, city officials started garbage collection for people who lived under bridges because they were there for so long.
“We had a problem getting worse and worse no matter what we did,” Tim Richter said.
Richter is the president and CEO of Calgary Homeless Foundation, which was formed after a group of community and business leaders came together and decided to do something about Calgary’s homelessness problem.
The city now has a 10-year plan to end homelessness and has seen some early success. Since the plan began in 2008, Richter said homelessness has been reduced by nearly 12 per cent and 3,700 people have found housing.
“[Homelessness is] way cheaper to fix than it is to ignore.”
In 2011, 1,296 different people stayed in shelters in New Brunswick.
At a lecture last month at Fredericton’s Crowne Plaza Richter said it’s possible to end homelessness, and New Brunswick can follow Calgary’s lead in trying to do just that.
The fundamentals of the plan in Calgary are transferable anywhere, he said. It’s all about adopting best practices rather than conducting more studies.
Calgary’s plan is centred around a housing-first model, which means the focus is on getting people into housing and then on some of the issues that led them to be homeless, like addictions or mental illness.
It’s shifting from managing homelessness to ending it, Richter said, which means diverting money from creating more beds in homeless or emergency shelters.
“Building homeless shelters while trying to end homelessness is like building a parking garage in a traffic jam.”
The plan isn’t about ending poverty – the idea is to make sure people have enough income to keep a roof over their head and the rest will come later.
It’s about helping those most at-risk for becoming homeless and not everyone who lives in poverty will become homeless.
Richter said being at-risk to become homeless begins at birth and it’s easy to predict who will find themselves on the streets.
“We think we can narrow it down to postal codes and street addresses where people are at-risk.”
People housed through the plan in Calgary have a 92 per cent retention rate of staying in their homes after leaving homelessness.
The key to getting them to stay is to have minimal conditions on what they can and can’t do in their new home.
The Calgary Homeless Foundation’s goal for 2014 is to have no more than 10 per cent of the people who find a place to live through housing-first programs return to the streets.
Having aggressive goals and measurable targets, and adjusting the plan when things go awry, are necessary to have success, Richter said.
Tim Ross, coordinator of Fredericton’s Community Action Group on Homelessness, brought Richter to Fredericton for the talk.
“In New Brunswick, we’ve had momentum over the past four years but we’ve been a little bit distracted by our current fiscal state,” Ross said.
“The reason why I wanted to bring [Richter] here is to remind us that we’ve got all the resources we need, we can focus them better, we can dedicate more resources and it is within our reach to end homelessness in New Brunswick,” he said.
Executive director of the Human Development Council, Randy Hatfield, liked Richter’s idea of getting people into housing without waiting for them to get sober or into programs.
He also doesn’t want to see time and resources used to conduct more studies on homelessness in the province.
“It was nice to hear him say that we really don’t have to do more research because we really have a lot of best practices already. I like to say that R&D in our sector stands for rip off and duplicate.
“In this case, let’s take housing-first and let’s take a look at that model ad move forward.”