Can Calgary still end homelessness? City's 10-year plan verges on halfway point
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Calgary's still a land of opportunity, that is, if you can afford it.
That's the message from local proponents — past and present — of the city's 10-year plan to end homelessness, which will mark its halfway point in January.
Tim Richter, who helped spearhead initial efforts to reach the plan's goals as head of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, was quick to admit there have been bumps in the road, especially this year.
A citywide count in August found there were 3,576 people living on Calgary streets, that's up from 3,190 in January.
As well, projections suggest the housing vacancy rate will land at 1.7 per cent this year and could slip a little further going forward.
"We haven't seen those numbers since 2006," said homeless foundation spokesperson Andrea Ranson. "Our shelter use had gone down, but it's coming back up. We had 250 new beds for this winter. As of November, they were all being used."
Shelter struggles have been reported elsewhere, too. The Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre has routinely provided refuge for a full-capacity group of 1,170 people and shelters run by both the Mustard Seed and Inn From The Cold are also reporting increased demand.
"We've seen a dramatic jump in the number of meals we serve . . . services for counselling, employment," said Debbie Newman, the Drop-In's executive director. "We see a great number of people living in the community who cannot financially make it on a month-to-month basis and there coming to use for those services."
Richter, who now heads The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, was quick to suggest "there's no silver bullet," but added that increased rental and affordable housing must be created through funding from all three levels of government and incentives must be provided for developers.
Then there's a continual wave of people pouring into the city believing our vast energy industry will help them forge a better way of life.
"Many of these people are actually working, but live in shelters, which causes another problem . . . The government’s got to be upset because this not how they set up homeless shelters – to provide places for people to live who are working,” said Dr. Ron Kneebone with the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy.
Richter actually predicted much of the homeless struggles seen in 2012 would occur, largely as a byproduct of the post-boom economy.
"It's not going to be easy — by any stretch," he said. "I have said to people if you can end homelessness in Calgary, you can end it anywhere."
- The ultimate goal of Calgary's 10-year plan to end homelessness would see no individual or family stay in an emergency shelter for longer than one week before moving into a affordable home with the proper supports to stay there.
— With files from Ryan Kessler