In the year 2000, the National Alliance to End Homelessness released a report calling for communities across the U.S. to develop and implement 10 year plans to end homelessness. The shift from managing homelessness to ending it became a priority and by 2010, over 300 communities in the U.S. have developed 10 year plans to end homelessness.
The question is do they work? Are cities with plans to end homelessness actually ending homelessness? While specifics vary across communities, the following are three examples:
The Denver plan was implemented in 2005. In the first two years, they had reduced over all homelessness by 11% and chronic homelessness by 36%. They further assisted over 3,600 homeless people to find employment and developed over 1,500 new housing units for homeless people. 1
Despite the downturn in the economy, in a two year period from 2007 to 2009, chronic homelessness was reduced by 35%. This was largely because 320 people were housed and 298 supportive housing units were created. Core strategies within the Sacramento plan include adopting the ‘housing first’ approach and creating permanent supportive housing for individuals with disabilities. 2
Within four and half years, over 2,000 people received housing. In 2009, 757 people received discharge planning upon release from health, psychiatric and correctional facilities to prevent homelessness. Since 2005, more than 3,643 households received rental assistance and avoided eviction into homelessness. Of those who were contacted 12 months later, 81% were still in housing 3 .
Currently, ending homelessness efforts are happening internationally and in 2008 Calgary became the first Canadian city to implement its own 10 year plan. Challenges were many. Any successful plan would need to build on international successes but be locally relevant. A paradigm shift was necessary, that is, shifting the thinking of politicians, policy makers, service providers and people experiencing homelessness that ending homelessness was not only necessary, but possible. As well, success required building multi-sector support for the plan, ensuring the plan was community led and sustainably funded.
Despite these challenges, in the first two years of Calgary’s plan there have been numerous successes
- more than 3,000 affordable housing units have been funded through partnerships with all three levels of government
- more than 1,500 people have received housing with support
- the number of people accessing Housing & Urban Affairs shelters has stabilized on a monthly basis after years of continuous growth
- the allocation of more than $70 million dollars in funding towards best practices for ending homelessness including priority to ‘housing first’ programs
- development of a policy agenda for municipal, provincial and federal governments to increase the stock of affordable housing, to reduce barriers to access supports and to expand homelessness prevention efforts
- implementation of Calgary’s Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) in 25 agencies by December 2010, with a total of 80 participating agencies will be online by 2012.
In addition, a considerable amount of rigorous collaborative research has been done in Calgary and across Canada leading to a clearer understanding of people’s experiences, pathways and patterns of homelessness and the economic and social costs associated with managing instead of ending homelessness. Examples include development of a toolkit for use with the Re-housing Triage Assessment Tool for prioritizing interventions for those most at risk, the Risks and Assets for Homelessness Prevention developed to prevent homelessness, dimensions of promising practice for case management in housing first, an ethnographic account of panhandling and informal labour amongst homeless Calgarians, exploratory GIS analysis of vulnerability, and housing challenges for newcomers. Development of best practices for the ‘support’ in ‘housing first’ and local, national and international networks have also been established.
Most important, momentum is building. All seven cities in Alberta have their own plans and Alberta remains the first and only province committed to ending homelessness. All of this progress is evidence that government, academics, researchers, service providers and our homeless neighbours are committed to ending homelessness and that comprehensive, collaborative 10 year plans do work.
Several years of learning from around the world and almost three years in Calgary show that ending homelessness is a process that is constantly evolving. We must continue to learn, adapt, and fine tune, to ensure that interventions are appropriate, reflective and relevant and have one definitive goal, ending homelessness.
1. Denver: Beyond Planning. Here
2. Sacramento City and County: 10 Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness http://sacramentostepsforward.com/
3. Home Again: a 10 year plan to End Homelessness in Portland and Multnomah County. 2009 Annual Report: Here
Tim Richter is the President and CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation. He was drawn into a new career in the non-profit sector by the opportunity to lead the development of Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness as project manager for the Calgary Committee to End Homelessness. Prior to joining the Calgary Homeless Foundation, Tim was Director of Government Relations at TransAlta Corporation, one of Canada’s largest private power generation and wholesale marketing companies with operations in Canada, the United States and Australia. In addition to his work in the private sector, Tim has a long history of public service including work as a political staffer in Ottawa and seven years service in the Canadian Forces Army Reserve.
Katrina Milaney is the Manager of Community Based Research and Knowledge Mobilization with the Calgary Homeless Foundation. Katrina has been a researcher for several years engaged in numerous collaborative projects that uncover the root causes of social issues and how solutions to those social issues can advance social change. Katrina has a Masters degree in Community Health Sciences and is currently pursing a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies. She is a regular guest lecturer at the University of Calgary has been with the Calgary Homeless Foundation since June 2009.