10 Year Plan to end homelessness underway

One of the savviest moves made to fight homelessness in this city was to ask business persons not for their money, but for their abilities.

Presenting in Murray Fraser Hall on Oct.6, Calgary Homeless Foundation president and CEO Tim Richter noted this was one of the major breaks from the past that has been made in developing Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness.

The plan is a modified version of the strategy adopted in many U.S. centres. In New York City, the chronic homeless population– those living on the streets either repeatedly or for more than a year at a time– has been reduced by around 85 per cent. The strategy marks a shift from the old methodology of dealing with the problem to the new one of ending it and came about as agencies like Richter’s grew aware that no matter what they did, the homeless situation in Calgary became more desperate.

“[Homelessness is] a moral, social and economic disaster,” said Richter. “I think of it as an unnatural disaster because it is a preventable disaster.”

The most important change to come with the 10 Year Plan has been the adoption of the “Housing First” strategy. In the past, emphasis was placed on treating individuals’ addictions or mental illness before worrying about housing.

“Trying to treat an addiction when you don’t have a house is like trying to go on a diet in Tim Horton’s,” said Richter. “Housing First is a great example of truth in advertising because it is what it says.”

The idea behind the new approach is that it is much easier for people to deal with all the problems in their life if they have a house to do it in. In accordance with this plan, Richter noted it is important to develop more affordable housing. The Ten Year Plan targeted the acquisition of 114 acres of land to build housing and treatment facilities on and aims at constructing 11,250 affordable housing units, including some devoted to supported living and treatment.

The methodology change in the plan is bolstered by the inclusion of the private sector.

“The private sector brings influence and they bring impatience,” said Richter. “They are drivers and they are not afraid of big things.”

The plan’s goal is to eliminate homelessness in Calgary in seven years. The last homelessness count, conducted in May 2008, found 4,060 individuals. That is an 18 per cent rise from the previous count in 2006 and a 900 per cent rise since the inaugural count in 1992.