Red Deer recognized for efforts to eliminate homelessness

Red Deer has been recognized by top Canadian researchers for being on the right track to end homelessness.

Red Deer has been recognized by top Canadian researchers for being on the right track to end homelessness.

The State of Homelessness in Canada 2014, released on Wednesday, highlighted only two communities — Red Deer and Medicine Hat — for their efforts to eliminate homelessness.

In Red Deer, four community organizations — Central Alberta’s Safe Harbour Society for Health and Housing, Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter, Central Alberta Women’s Outreach Society and the Canadian Mental Health Association — work together as part of the Red Deer Housing Team using the Housing First strategy for the difficult to house.

They look at getting people into housing to give them some stability and support before dealing with issues, like mental health disorders, that make them vulnerable to homelessness.

Stacey Carmichael, director of programs with Safe Harbour, said the organizations bring their strengths together at the table.

“I think if we worked independently, or in our only little silos, we would lose a lot of that expertise. One organization can’t be an expert in addictions, mental health, domestic violence, housing — but our team is.”

Working as a team also holds members to task, she said.

“We’re accountable to our funders, to each other, to the community, to our clients, lots of different eyes on the ball so to speak.”

The team is funded by the provincial and federal governments and supported by the City of Red Deer. Each agency also contributes some fundraising dollars.

Carmichael said working as a team is more efficient, eliminates duplication and is cost effective when it comes to administration.

And the team is open to finding new ways better help the homeless, she said.

“We’re not adverse to changing things up a bit if it’s proven it’s going to work more effectively. The collaboration itself, that’s non-negotiable. It will always be there.”

According to The State of Homelessness in Canada report, 235,000 Canadian experience homelessness in a year — 5,000 are unsheltered, 180,000 stay in emergency shelters and 50,000 are provisionally accommodated.

A key focus in the report is the creation of more affordable housing.

Over the past 25 years, federal spending on low-income housing dropped to $60 per capita from $115. The authors of the study propose that federal investment increase to $106 per Canadian annually.

“While this may seem like a significant increase over previous levels, it is still less than what we were paying in 1989. Additionally, it is necessary to address the accumulated affordable housing deficit built up over the past 25 years,” said the report.

Carmichael said an extra $46 per capita annually sounds like an achievable goal.

“The federal government through their Homelessness Partnering Strategy and things like that supports the work that we do without a doubt.”

But there has been a reduction in “bricks and mortar” funding, she said.

“Housing first is the philosophy the Red Deer Housing team operates under. It serves its target group extremely well. There’s still a need for other kind of housing. We still have a housing crisis. We still need more accessible housing. We need more affordable housing for families living in poverty. We need more housing for seniors who are really vulnerable who are living in poverty,” Carmichael said.

Mayor Tara Veer said council recognizes affordable housing as one of the top three social issues facing Red Deer, and the city has been recognized for a lot of its work around housing and homelessness.

She said Red Deer has been working with both the federal and provincial governments on two specific housing challenges.

“In eight to 10 years from now, a lot of our existing public housing stock will be eligible to revert to private housing, so we’re really faced with two very necessary strategies: adding additional units in the here and now, and protecting the units we have before we have a significant community issue eight to 10 years from now.”

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