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Province on track to meet homelessness goal

Alberta has six years left to meet its deadline to end homelessness and the province says it’s on track.

In Red Deer a total of 520 homeless people received housing and supports between April 2009 and September 2012 as part of the city’s plan towards ending homelessness.

Across the province, 6,625 homeless Albertans were housed.

These statistics were released on Thursday along with a 2012 progress report on A Plan For Alberta: Ending Homelessness in 10 Years from the Alberta Secretariat for Action on Homelessness.

The creation of the Alberta Interagency Council on Homelessness was also announced on Thursday to enhance community input and participation in guiding the future direction of the 10-year plan.

Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski and former president and CEO of the Edmonton YMCA Franco Savoia will co-chair the 33-member council that will meet every two or three months.

“We have six more years to try and implement the plan that the secretariat came out with. Our job will be to advise the government on that plan and how to implement it,” said Jablonski from Edmonton where the council held its first meeting on Thursday.

Council members include service providers, community-based organizations that distribute government funding, and all levels of government. Roxana Nielsen-Stewart, program co-ordinator for housing with the City of Red Deer’s social planning department is a council member.

The three-year progress report had an update on Housing First programs which focus on getting people off the streets before dealing with their mental health or addiction issues.

Statistics showed 104 people in Red Deer graduated from Housing First programs to achieve housing stability. Throughout Alberta, a total of 1,702 individuals graduated from similar programs.

Between April 1, 2009 and March 21, 2012, there was a dramatic reduction in the contact housing first clients around the province had with health and justice systems:

• Interactions with ambulance personnel was reduced by 72 per cent.

• Emergency room visits fell 69 per cent.

• Days in hospital dropped 72 per cent.

• Interactions with police were reduced by 66 per cent.

• Days in jail fell 88 per cent.

• Court appearances dropped 69 per cent.

“We know that people who are homeless have more problems than just being homeless,” Jablonski said.

Providing housing for people through Housing First programs helps them to be healthier so they are less likely to require emergency health care and when they are off the streets they are less likely to become involved with the justice system, she said.

“Providing housing for people who are homeless, we help them to improve their lives and we also help the rest of the province. When we help people through the Housing First philosophy, we help ourselves.”

Seven communities, including Red Deer, have multi-year plans to end homelessness that align with the provincial plan and address local priorities.

Alberta’s homelessness plan is now shifting to making long-term changes that will prevent homelessness and strategies requiring co-ordinated action between government and local communities.

Rebekah McDermott, co-ordinator of Red Deer’s EveryOne’s Home Leadership Model, said preventing homelessness in Red Deer should include looking at putting affordable and appropriate housing in place and being able to sustain housing stock long term. Planning is required for inclusionary zoning to ensure different neighbourhoods have affordable housing.

Prevention also means looking at training and education for employment, working with employers to ensure sufficient wages, and financial literacy for families and youth, she said.

Alberta NDP says the PC government has to put more money into ending homelessness if it’s serious about its 2019 promise.

Housing capital programs, which provide affordable housing units, have been cut from $193 million in 2010 to just $42 million in 2012 and the Direct to Tenant Rent Supplement Program has been cut.

“The PCs can create a new advisory body, but there’s simply no way they can end homelessness at current funding levels,” said NDP human services critic Rachel Notley in a press release.



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