HELPING HOMELESS – Samuel Tologanak stands outside Potter’s Hands soup kitchen. Tologanak is among Red Deer’s homeless who utilize facilities assisted through Red Deer’s five-year plan to end homelessness.

Examining the City’s fight to end homelessness

  • Dec. 4, 2013 4:25 p.m.

Red Deer’s first of two five-year plans to end homelessness has finished this year.

Gary McCaskill, writer of the next five-year plan and coordinator for EveryOne’s Home – Red Deer’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness by 2018, said that he hopes the next plan will focus more on the lack of housing options and better data acquisition and management.

“We’re really in that crafting stage right now for the next five-year plan,” said McCaskill, who has been the coordinator for EveryOne’s Home since July.

“What I’m finding in looking back at the last five-year plan is that there has been a lot of accomplishment over the first five years but it has been in the sense of trying to figure out where we stand as a community with homelessness, what services were available in the community and how we can bring them together in a united front.”

Executed from 2008-2013, the plan was to set the foundation for ending homelessness in the community by 2018 through four goals.

These include having sufficient housing options to meet the diverse and changing needs of our community members; increased awareness, healthy relationships, and good communication; ensuring individuals and families have access to support services whose focus is on maintaining housing or finding permanent housing and finally making sure that Red Deer has effective and reliable data systems for knowledge development on homelessness to support evidence-based decision-making.

McCaskill believes that while the community has successfully worked to build healthy relationships with the homeless through services such as the Safe Harbour Society, as well ensuring that individuals and families have access to support services, lack of effective and reliable data and lack of housing options have been an issue with the first plan.

While the Red Deer and District Community Foundation (RDDCF) was initially in charge of writing the plan, after it was released it was left to the City and individual working groups to implement various parts of the plan.

Before the first plan was released in 2008, the first count of the City’s homeless population was in 2006. The next count was not until 2012, in which the RDDCF found there were 279 people residing on the streets, in shelters and with friends temporarily.

Staff at the RDDCF hope to continue to do a count every other year.

Kristine Bugayong, executive director of the RDDCF, hopes one day Red Deer will follow the example of cities such as Calgary and Edmonton who have administered centralized homeless authorities to implement and measure the success of the cities’ plans to end homelessness.

“Everything takes traction and it just takes time to solve a complex issue, and that’s what we did in the first five-year plan was lay down that traction for the next five year plan,” said Bugayong.

“The City is the funder, they distribute the money and here we are on the other side of the fence trying to further develop the community. We’ve come to the conclusion that this is not efficient, because at the best of times we don’t have the money to implement the plan.

“This is where one holistic centre would be favourable, because there would be a centralized location for the acquisition of resources and finances and the implementation of the plan,” she said. “If we really want the plan to be successful we need to have the money and the plan in one place.”

Roxana Nielsen Stewart, community development supervisor for the City, believes the success of the first five-year plan can be seen in the 344 formerly homeless people who were housed from 2009 to 2012 through Red Deer’s Housing First initiative.

According to statistics from the Red Deer Housing Authority, there are 384 people on the wait list for affordable housing and 305 affordable housing units available in Red Deer and area that are always full.

“The last units that we added to our portfolio were in 2008 when we purchased nine wheelchair units at Douglas Place,” said Outi Kite, housing administrator for the Red Deer Housing Authority.

“Currently we are assisting 514 households a month who are accessing the rent subsidy program and we encourage people to consider this option.”

Stacey Carmichael, director of housing and outreach services for the Safe Harbour Society, explained that there are plenty of services such as shelters available for the homeless but nowhere for them to go post shelter. “What we have is a serious lack of housing options,” said Carmichael.

“Once they get a job and are ready to transition out of the shelter, they are finding that there is nowhere for them to go due to a lack of affordable housing and even a lack of market housing.”

While the success of the first five-year plan is still relatively unclear, McCaskill estimates to have the second plan released before March 2014 in which he hopes to provide a bridge for bodies of the community to come together on and a clearer picture of the issues facing Red Deer’s fight to end homelessness.

jswan@reddeerexpress.com

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