Housing market heightens challenges for the homeless

  • Jul. 30, 2014 4:36 p.m.

The housing market is taking its toll on Red Deer’s efforts to help end homelessness.

Stacey Carmichael, director of programs at Safe Harbour Society explained that the single biggest challenge to ending homelessness is a lack of available housing.

She said that every other issue could be overcome if there were safe homes to give people.

“In our community, we just did a great big housing option framework thing and it really laid out how critical the housing needs are in Red Deer, not just for folks who are homeless, but for the average family,” Carmichael said.

“You can imagine that the average homeless person might get bumped down the list when you have families, maybe, or students looking at that same housing. I think that we can respond to most people’s needs, but it would be nice to have more housing options in the community, for sure.”

The Red Deer Housing Team partners with Women’s Outreach, Canadian Mental Health and the Women’s Shelter. Safe Harbour also works closely with the Red Deer Native Friendship Society.

All of these organizations are working to secure safe shelter to provide a sense of stability for homeless people to start building their skills and confidence.

“We’ve got a really cool community that works really well together. We have a lot to be proud of, actually. When we go to other communities, they’re always in awe of how well we work together. I’d say the biggest challenge we have right now is affordable housing, or access to housing, period,” said Carmichael.

There are often a variety of circumstances that need to be considered when looking at how or why a person becomes homeless. Each person is dealing with different stresses in their life and they cannot simply be grouped together. Carmichael emphasises this by saying that ,“The only thing these people have in common is a lack of a home.

“Our mission statement includes welcoming and connecting people. It’s a bit of a shift because when people come to the door now, they are welcome to come in and we want them here. But, this isn’t where we want you to be long-term, because this is not a home. It’s not good enough, quite frankly. No matter who you are, if you have mental health issues or addictions, we want to get you out of here and into appropriate housing.”

Safe Harbour’s services include a non-medical detoxification program for people dealing with substance addictions, supportive short-term housing for people recovering from addictions or who are vulnerable and still working through addiction and Aboriginal support services that include a sharing circle, smudging, prayers and individual/family supports.

Safe Harbour also connects people to services for issues such as domestic abuse.

The housing team can work with a chronically homeless individual and provide them with things like case management, a rent subsidy, weekly home visits and other services to help reduce the chances that a person will end up without a home again.

Being without a home is especially difficult in the winter, but summer brings its own challenges. Heatstroke and dehydration are the two biggest factors that homeless shelters address in the summertime.

Instead of coats, toques and mitts, the donation needs for warmer months are items such as sunscreen, bug spray, hats and light clothing.