Despite the dedicated efforts of many, Calgary is in the midst of a homelessness crisis that is growing both in numbers and severity. If we do not act now to address this serious social and economic issue, by the end of the next decade our city could have as many as 15,000 people homeless on our streets on any given day. This would be a moral and social catastrophe with serious economic implications; if nothing is done to address this problem, we estimate that the cumulative economic cost could be more than $9 billion in the next 10 years.
Inspired by successful efforts in other cities across North America, Calgarians are rising to the challenge of eliminating homelessness. After a year of intensive research and public consultation, the Calgary Committee to End Homelessness has tabled its 10 Year Plan. The Plan has both short- and long-term goals. In the short term, it aims to create rapid, visible and meaningful change by focusing attention on chronic homelessness and prevention. In the longer term, the Plan calls for the creation of 11,250 affordable and specialized housing units over the next decade and proposes major systemic changes to eliminate barriers that currently entrench homelessness.
The guiding philosophy of the Plan is a proven concept called “Housing First,” which puts the highest priority on moving homeless people into permanent housing with the support necessary to sustain that housing. Key elements of the Plan include co-ordinated intake and assessment, city-wide case management and a Homeless Management Information System that will bring a more consistent, co-ordinated approach to Calgary’s homeless-serving system.
These changes will require that the three levels of government, the private sector, non-profit organizations, and institutions like hospitals—all the partners in the homeless system—work together in innovative and more accountable ways.
The Plan has set ambitious targets including the elimination of family homelessness in two years, the retirement of 50 per cent of Calgary’s emergency shelter beds within five years, an 85 per cent reduction in the chronic homeless population within five years with the complete elimination of chronic homelessness in seven years, and a reduction in the maximum average stay in emergency shelters to less than seven days by the end of 2018.
Reaching these targets will require significant initial financial investments in capital projects and new programs from governments, foundations and the private sector. These are major investments, but because they are designed to end homelessness, they will also eliminate many of the costs currently associated with it. In fact, we estimate the 10 Year Plan can deliver a cumulative cost saving of over $3.6 billion. The Plan contains detailed cost estimates, policy recommendations and a timeline that sets out the major actions required and milestones to be achieved.
Calgary is at a turning point in its history. If we are to continue as a great Canadian city, we have a moral obligation to eliminate homelessness. This 10 Year Plan provides the path to achieve this worthy goal.