Solutions to homelessness must be broad in scope

Since 1992 I have worked with many vulnerable individuals and families experiencing an array of challenges – and successes.

From youth in conflict with the law to adults living with a severe mental illness from individuals confined to a wheelchair and individuals living with an addiction, one thing remains consistent; the need for appropriate housing, an adequate source of income and strong relationships. Without these things many become homeless.

Some folks will fall on hard times, perhaps lose employment or have unexpected expenses that leave them unable to pay for housing and consequently become homeless. With a little help they will get back into housing and be fine.

Others may live with an illness such as schizophrenia which can make accessing and maintaining housing more complex and the need for support services necessary. Really, the only thing most homeless individuals and families have in common is their lack of housing. Therefore, the solutions to the issue must be broad in scope.

We have a fantastic network of agencies and citizens, municipal, provincial and federal government representatives and the faith community working hard everyday. In addition to the individual work many in these groups have met regularly for over 10 years to find solutions to the complexities of housing and homelessness as the Red Deer Housing Committee.

This committee, has been instrumental in many local initiatives including the encouragement of Mayor Morris Flewwelling to develop the Mayor’s Task Force on Ending Homelessness, which resulted “EveryOne’s Home Red Deer’s Vision and Framework on Ending Homelessness by 2018”.

Locally the Red Deer & District Community Foundation (RDDCF) was honoured, at the request of the Mayor’s Task Force, to take on a leadership role in helping Red Deer to implement EveryOne’s Home. With funding from the City of Red Deer, RDDCF is able to provide a space for change and work with the community on the numerous activities that need to take place to end homelessness.

Red Deer was the first Canadian City to model work happening in the United States that was demonstrating excellent results through planning to end homelessness through 10-year planning. Since we began all seven major cities in Alberta have followed suit, even our provincial government developed a 10-year plan that recently won the gold award in the 2010 Institute of Public Administration of Canada national awards.

We have a lot to be proud of in Red Deer having developed the first Housing First program in Alberta, engaging new community partners in the development of affordable housing and increasing our focus on youth homelessness to name a few of the more obvious things that will end homelessness.

However, homelessness is complex and as indicated earlier it requires a variety of solutions. Developing and implementing the We Care social marketing campaign for example is a strategy towards ending homelessness. With the intentions of reducing misperceptions about homelessness and to provide opportunities for those who are homeless to develop more relationships in the community, the We Care campaign is an example of the diverse solutions that need to occur.

We know that by working together and providing appropriate housing along with necessary support services that lives are being transformed in a positive way and that dignity is being nurtured. We also know that this work is providing significant benefits in regards to cost savings. It is significantly less expensive to provide housing and support services then it is to leave people homeless.

No matter the underlying motivation, working together as a community to end homelessness benefits all of us. I am encouraged by the work that has happened to date and by the support for this work that occurs each day. I am confident we will be successful and end homelessness in Red Deer.

Stacey Carmichael is the chair of the Red Deer Housing Committee and co-coordinator for the community leadership initiative at the Red Deer and District Community Foundation. She can be reached at 403-341-6911.