The City of Red Deer played host to the 7 Cities conference, a joint partnership between the City of Red Deer, Homeward Trust Edmonton, the Calgary Homeless Foundation, the City of Grande Prairie, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society and the City of Lethbridge — with the goal of ending homelessness.
Mayor Tara Veer at the conference stressed the importance of not only affordable housing, but the vital need for shelter and support services.
“What is really imperative for Red Deer right now is the fact that shelter has not been on the housing continuum,” she said. “Shelter is not housing, however we recognize now that we need sufficient shelter space in order to enter the socially vulnerable into the system in order for us to move them up the continuum of housing.
“The greatest infrastructure programming need in Red Deer today and no doubt in the years to come will continue to be shelter and the support services to support that shelter.”
7 Cities brings together homeless-serving sector leadership, front-line agency staff, researchers, individuals with lived experience and government representatives from across the province.
Veer said that 7 Cities, which began 10 years ago, started a new era which was a model for ending homelessness to communities across the country.
“Today marks the beginning of our next 10-year commitment to working with 7 Cities,” Veer said. “It is a historic day but it is also the beginning of a new era looking at the diverse and complex needs of the socially vulnerable.”
Federal, provincial and municipal levels of government across the country have all created social plans to help alleviate and end homelessness, something Veer said began with a movement started by 7 Cities.
Advocating has also led to funding supports.
“Our plans have guided our public policy and since that time, provincial and federal funding have come our way,” Veer said. “We have been able to increase our safe affordable housing stock.
“While there certainly continues to be homelessness, there continues to be people who move along the continuum.”
Veer said that while homelessness remains persistent, they have saw individual successes and more housing options for the socially vulnerable.
“What we are dealing with is highly complex and includes very diverse social needs,” Veer said. “Addictions and mental health are certainly predominant challenges that affect the socially vulnerable who are in need of affordable housing.”
Veer added that 7 Cities allows Red Deer to look to other communities for best practices and models that could help end homelessness in the city.