We all would love to eliminate homelessness.
And many politicians have promised to do just that.
Yet, you probably walked by at least a handful of homeless people on your way to work today.
While major cities like Vancouver have fallen short on their mark to eradicate homelessness, one city in Alberta is closer than the rest in doing so.
Their solution? Give the homeless keys to their own apartments.
In 2009, the City of Medicine Hat, which has a population of 61,000, pledged to eliminate homelessness by March of this year as part of a 5-year plan.
While it’s too early to make an official statement, it turns out, the goal could be met by the end of the year, according to Mayor Ted Clugston.
This can be attributed to the city’s “Housing First” strategy, which commits the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society (MHCHS) to finding someone a place to live within 10 days of learning they’re homeless. Meaning, getting them into their own independent and permanent homes. Once they have accommodations, the underlying factors that led to homelessness can be addressed, and additional supports provided as needed.
It was a plan that came with much convincing; the MHCHS spent six years trying to convince the fiscally conservative mayor that it made financial sense.
Because, you know, keeping people off the streets saves money when it comes to things like ambulance costs, emergency room visits, police work, and the justice system. According to Alberta’s Ministry of Human Services, support for chronically homeless people can cost over $100,000 per year, taking into account justice, health, and emergency services.
Housing First, on the other hand, costs less than $35,000 a year.
The strategy – which was employed from April 2009 to March 2015 – saw 885 homeless people find a place to live in the city, subsequently resulting in lower shelter use.
According to Clugston, there have been 1,000 people out of 61,000 housed.
If that doesn’t seem like a lot to you, he points that that figure would be the equivalent of Calgary housing 20,000 people.
The “Housing First” approach has also been adopted by other communities in Alberta – also involved are the Calgary Homeless Foundation, the City of Lethbridge, Homeward Trust Edmonton, the City of Grande Prairie, the City of Red Deer, and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (which includes Fort McMurray).
While Clugston says he’s not quite “ready or prepared” to declare an official end to homelessness, he expects that the massive accomplishment will be announced by the end of 2015.
Once the official announcement is made, Medicine Hat will become the first municipality in Canada to end chronic homelessness.