In collaboration with the City of Lethbridge Community and Social Development Department, an environmental scan was conducted in November 2016 to identify subpopulations most in need of supportive and affordable housing, and to identify housing models best suited to meet the subpopulation needs within Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. The data collection process for the environmental scan included consultations with key informants, a review of scholarly and grey literature, and targeted interviews as required. In total, 27 Housing First and other service providers participated in the consultation process, representing 16 different agencies in Lethbridge, for this environmental scan.
The following five key questions were used to focus the scope and guide consultations:
1. What subpopulations are most at-risk for homelessness?
2. What subpopulation is most in-need of supportive permanent or affordable housing in Lethbridge?
3. What housing models are best suited to meet the need of at-risk subpopulations in Lethbridge?
4. What underlying causes or conditions are unique to subpopulations at-risk in Lethbridge?
5. What barriers and/or opportunities exist in Lethbridge to house at-risk subpopulations?
Throughout the consultation process there was a high level of consistency among participants in their responses to the five key questions. For example, when asked to comment on subpopulations most at-risk the participants were quick to identify young adults 18-24, men 30-55 years of age, and people of Aboriginal Status as major risk factors for homelessness. When questioned, who is most in-need of supportive permanent housing respondents indicated people living with addictions, women across all ages, FASD and mental health issues (diagnosed or suspected), also a history of generational poverty and trauma was identified. In addition, specific causes and conditions were identified to further clarify specific risk factors, services, and supports needed for success-based housing initiative in Lethbridge. It should be noted that financial difficulty was not identified as a primary cause or condition of homelessness in Lethbridge for the most at-risk or most in-need subpopulations. Rather, a lack of “appropriate” supportive housing with a focus on harm reduction, guest related evictions, and time limed support services were identified most often.
When participants were asked to comment on housing models to meet the need of at-risk subpopulations the majority quickly identified the need for “more River House” and to “replace Van Haarlem Apartments that burnt down”. Beyond Lethbridge, three examples were referenced most often: Alpha House in Calgary, Bissell Centre in Edmonton, and Buffalo Apartments in Red Deer. When asked to describe the essential elements or assets of the example models respondents indicated the harm reduction approaches, guest management supports, and intensive on-site and ongoing case management as most needed in Lethbridge.
The greatest strength identified by this environmental scan is the genuine interest and desire to engage in solution focused action, this high level of readiness among service providers and agencies presents many opportunities for actionoriented decision-making. There is a high level of interest to collaborate across agencies, however, the coordination and “not knowing” what other agencies are doing was identified as a challenge. Recent changes in the Housing First organizational structure and perceived “hold” on services may be contributing to the lack of awareness across agencies. Also, restructuring seems to have created a “backlog” thus has increased waitlists for Housing First services which is problematic, particularly at a time when inventory is low.
In summary, there is strong motivation to seek out and secure funding to address homelessness for the most at-risk and most in-need subpopulations in Lethbridge. There is a collective readiness and hope among housing professionals and local agencies in Lethbridge thus the timing is right to plan a strategic direction forward.