Homelessness rises among families

Aldermen call for focus on housing not shelters

Calgary’s homeless population has grown by 18 per cent over the last two years with a rapid rise in the number of homeless families.

“This in my view is a national shame” says Ald. Druh Farrell who represents downtown Ward 7. “These are Calgarians who are suffering so we have to do something.”

The numbers are contained in the city’s Biennial Count of Homeless Persons a census conducted last May and released this week. The total number of homeless people counted was 4060 including 569 sleeping on the streets. Of particular note was the rise in homeless families which jumped from 145 to 197 or 36 per cent in the same period. The count has been conducted on a night in May every two years since 1992.

The number of homeless people has steadily risen since the first census which counted 447 homeless people. The climb in the number of homeless families has been particularly steep in the last eight years including a 147 per cent rise between 2002 and 2004.

City officials offer few explanations for the continued rise in homelessness but Farrell speculates that the city’s shrinking pool of rental units could be to blame. “We’ve been converting our rental stock to condos for a generation” she says. “We’ve seen a huge loss in our rental supply.”

She calls for an end to condo conversions and for a focus on building affordable housing rather than simply providing front-line services such as food and shelter beds.

Ald. John Mar who represents the Beltline on city council agrees that condo conversions must stop and that the city has to get landlords to create secondary suites. “What we need to do is have a policy where we can have the widest possible distribution of secondary suites” he says. “It’s the low-hanging fruit.”

Some relief for homeless families will come from Inn From the Cold which announced this week that it has finally secured enough money to open a shelter at Centre St. and 11th Ave. S. in the Beltline. When completed the project will house 60 to 90 families.

Inn From the Cold has raised $4 million of the estimated $6 million cost of the shelter and a new $2.5 million loan from property developer Gary Nissen will make up the difference. Earlier in the week the province turned down the charity’s request for a grant saying the proposed location next to the Mustard Seed made it a bad place for families with children.

“We can’t support this particular project” says Lindsay Blackett the province’s minister of culture and community spirit. “The area is not a suitable area for families with children.”

Inn From the Cold didn’t mince words in its response. “I’m surprised that the government’s turning its back on homeless families” says Diana Segboer the organization’s executive director. Luckily for the charity Nissen stepped in to provide the money instead.