Numbers dip but not by much

The number of homeless Calgarians is decreasing ever so slightly. That’s the news from the Calgary Homeless Foundation’s 2012 annual report released September 16. The latest point-in-time count conducted in August 2012 found 3576 people experiencing homelessness in the city. That is 25 fewer people than the May 2008 count conducted at the beginning of Calgary’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.

The decrease appears small but the report points out that before the 10-Year Plan began homeless numbers were increasing by 10 to 15 per cent every year. Based on that the report speculates without the benefit of the 10-Year Plan the 2012 count may have found 4434 to 5364 homeless people.

The plan works under a “housing first” philosophy which aims to provide long-term homes to individuals before addressing any issues such as substance abuse or mental illness. The goal is to significantly reduce the number of emergency shelter beds needed in Calgary and to ensure homeless people who turn to a shelter will then move into “a safe decent affordable home with the support needed to sustain it” within one week.

Foundation spokesperson Louise Gallagher says the housing-first model is proving to be a more cost-efficient way to help the homeless than traditional practices. For example she says “what we find is that when people are housed they begin to work towards addressing their issues more quickly.”

The report states the Calgary Homeless Foundation is hampered by frontline staff burnout and the shortage of below-market value housing units in the city. There are 15151 such units in Calgary with a waiting list of 3200 people.

The next homeless count is planned for January 2014.