Homelessness in Calgary Down for the First Time in 20 Years

Homeless count results show 10 Year Plan working

February 06, 2012

CALGARY, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - Feb. 6, 2012) - The Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) is pleased to report the 2012 homeless count shows an 11.4 per cent decrease in the number of people experiencing homelessness since 2008. If the historical trend since 1992 had continued, Calgary would have as many as 4,200 people homeless in 2012. Instead, the 2012 homeless count enumerated 3,190 people experiencing homelessness, compared with 3,601 people in 2008.

"These results show the 10 Year Plan is working," said Tim Richter, President and CEO, CHF. "The hard work of front-line agencies, as well as government and donor support has turned the tide of homelessness in Calgary."

"The decline in the number of homeless people in Calgary is great news," said Dave Hancock, Minister of Human Services. "My ministry will continue to support the tremendous work of our community partners to ensure more homeless people have the chance to have permanent housing with supports to reclaim their lives of dignity, hope and independence."

The homeless count was done on January 18, 2012, with a count of people sleeping outside (rough sleepers) and data gathered from 85 facilities. The 2012 homeless count reclassified emergency, short- and long-term facilities, removing permanent housing facilities from the 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2012 counts to provide a better representation of people who are actually homeless. The homeless count was sponsored by Burnet, Duckworth and Palmer LLP.

"As a long-term partner with the CHF, Burnet Duckworth & Palmer LLP is committed to supporting the initiatives that have contributed to this new benchmark for decreasing homelessness," said Craig Hill, senior partner with BD&P. "The ongoing corporate community investment in these social programs will continue to define Calgary as a better place to live for all citizens."

Winter homeless counts get a better sense of the number of people in emergency shelters, while summer homeless counts get a better snapshot of rough sleeping and shelter use in warm months. The CHF plans to conduct a summer homeless count. A full report based on the January homeless count will be available in April 2012.

The homeless count results align with data showing that Human Services' short-term supportive and emergency shelter bed use has declined since 2009. This trend led to the closure of 189 beds by the Salvation Army in 2011.

In addition, analysis of Housing First program data is showing it is more effective to provide housing with support to people experiencing homelessness, compared with helping people through emergency shelter and institutional responses. A sample of 270 people who were housed showed that after 12 months 92 per cent retained their housing. As well, their use of public systems went down by about 40 per cent. Notably, emergency room visits and days in jail decreased by about 50 per cent and interactions with police were down by 60 per cent. This data comes from the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), which was implemented by the CHF with 23 agencies. Another 20 agencies are expected to join HMIS over the next two years.

Using new research from the University of Calgary's Faculty of Social Work, the CHF also estimates that the number of Calgarians at risk of homelessness is much smaller than previously assumed. New estimates suggest about 14,000 households are at imminent risk of homelessness, compared with the common belief that 72,000 Calgary households were at risk.

"We've learned that homelessness doesn't happen to anyone: it happens when a predictable combination of risk factors is present, and a number of protective factors are absent," said Richter. "With a better understanding of who is at risk of homelessness, we can better focus homelessness prevention programs and poverty reduction efforts."

Despite a number of positive signals and housing more than 3,500 people since the 10 Year Plan began, a number of challenges remain.

"To some extent we are fighting an uphill battle in a growing economy: we have people moving to Calgary for work and there is a lack of affordable housing," said Richter.

A 2011 School of Public Policy study led by Drs. Ron Kneebone and Herb Emery at the University of Calgary indicates Calgary is the centre of homelessness in Alberta, driven by migration to a strong labour market and a lack of affordable housing. The study indicates 63 per cent of all shelter users in Alberta are in Calgary, compared with 28 per cent in Edmonton. In 2011, 9,563 people moved to Calgary from other cities and provinces. The number of rental units in Calgary declined from 36,174 in 2009 to 34,814 in 2011.

Migration is also impacting family homelessness. Early data indicates there are more Aboriginal and immigrant families moving to Calgary in need of housing and support. At the same time, there is a lack of affordable housing for families requiring two- or three-bedroom units. These trends mean CHF must develop regional partnerships, especially with nearby Aboriginal communities, and engage with government in regional planning.

The 10 Year Plan targets an end to homelessness by January 29, 2018. Ending homelessness means that an individual or family will stay in an emergency shelter or sleep outside for no longer than one week before moving into a safe, decent and affordable home with the support needed to sustain it.

The CHF leads the implementation of the 10 Year Plan in partnership with the many homeless-serving agencies, the private sector, government partners, the faith community, other foundations and all Calgarians to end homelessness in Calgary once and for all. Calgarians wishing to contribute by making donations or volunteering are encouraged to visit the CHF website: www.calgaryhomeless.com.