Red Deer better get working on more affordable housing if it wants to meet its goal to end homelessness by 2018, says the consultant on Red Deer’s first point-in-time homeless count.
The Red Deer Point in Time Homeless Count 2012 Final Report, released on Monday, showed 279 homeless people were found the night of the count, Oct. 16.
John Whitesell, chief operating officer of OrgCode Consulting Inc., said in the end the only solution to homelessness is housing and that requires planning and collaboration.
“You cannot do this without the support of the private sector and making it right for the developers and the landlords to build and support the building of affordable housing in the community,” Whitesell said at a session at the Golden Circle on Tuesday
Red Deer is no different than other communities in that it lacks affordable housing, he said.
The count showed 44 per cent of homeless were aboriginal despite aboriginals making up only 4.4 per cent of city residents.
In October, city council ruled against making changes to the land-use bylaw that would have allowed for Red Deer Native Friendship Society’s affordable housing and cultural centre to be built in Clearview Ridge.
The decision followed one of the largest public hearings in recent memory, where the majority of the speakers were opposed to the project. Many residents said they were left in the dark about the project when they purchased their homes in Clearview Ridge.
Whitesell said the city appears to be at an impasse, but an impasse is just a pause between ideas.
“So regroup, rethink,” Whitesell said.
Friendship Society executive director Tanya Schur said the extent of homelessness among aboriginals in Red Deer is not news to the society.
“We need to invest in the aboriginal population in order to create a way for the aboriginal population to be contributing citizens in our community, which is what we want. We want a home like everyone else,” Schur said.
“Forty-four per cent of the aboriginal population is homeless. I can guarantee you that 44 per cent of the funding to deal with housing and homelessness isn’t going to the aboriginal community.”
Schur said the not-in-my-back-yard attitude is a big hurdle but homelessness costs everyone in society. The cultural centre is about sharing the aboriginal culture with Red Deer citizens, increasing tourism, improving economics and providing educational opportunities.
“The public will be able to get behind it and support it when they understand we were never talking about detox. We were never talking about a shelter. We were always talking about building an aboriginal community of people that would include our youth, our families and our elders,” said Schur.
Whitesell said reducing homelessness requires working towards a societal shift in norms and values.
“I think what Mayor (Morris) Flewwelling did in terms of championing the cause was probably a great starting point for Red Deer,” he said.
Scott Cameron, the city’s social planning manager, said this month his department will start developing its priorities for next year and the homeless count is an affirmation of what the city is seeing.
“It is a snapshot in time. But I think it’s a good representative picture of what we’re hearing from programs and services,” Cameron said.
Nearly three out of four homeless from the count reported an addiction.
Kath Hoffman, executive director of Central Alberta’s Safe Harbour Society for Health and Housing, said typically the root cause of issues like addiction is trauma.
“We know that longer term services are the key. It takes a long time to sustain a change. We don’t have the longer term services that we need. That’s where I see Safe Harbour fitting in.”