Editorial: Homeless population needs help now

By Katy Anderson

The prediction of the coldest winter in fifteen years will affect all of us, but for the homeless population of Calgary it could be catastrophic.

Homeless Awareness Calgary does a count of the city’s homeless every two years. The last count was done in fall 2006 and totaled 3,400. Because of both the lapse in time and the imperfections of the survey, the current total is thought to be closer to 4,000, and city shelters are currently turning away patrons.

To help deal with this need, a new shelter in the Foothills Industrial Park opened its doors Mon., Nov. 19 and will offer a temporary refuge for the winter months. The renovated warehouse is a replacement for last year’s shelter, the 16th Ave. north Brick building, which was scheduled for demolition.

However, just replacing the Brick’s shelter is not enough. Both the city and the province need to do more. The shelter is being heralded as a new haven for the homeless, yet, despite a few extra beds, it fails to offer enough space to keep up with the numbers on the street. In Calgary’s oil-rich economy, making people sleep outside in-20 degree weather is nauseating.

Differences in jurisdiction make homelessness a tough issue. Municipalities know what is best, yet the province controls the funds. Both the province and the City of Calgary have acknowledged the problem in the form of announcing ten-year plans–long-term models that are based on initiatives already found in the U.S.

The city formed Calgary Committee to End Homelessness last Jan. and they are expected to announce the details of their ten-year plan in the new year. The CCEH has introduced Pathways to Housing Calgary, a plan modeled after a system in New York. The model aims to have 50 people in permanent homes as early as this month, and is designed to get people into housing first as an essential first step in dealing with other issues such as violence and addictions. This initiative is promising because of its immediacy and hopefully their 10-year plan will include similar strategies.

However, despite this positive initiative, the city has still not allowed secondary suites. These are a logical short-term solution. There is space available in people’s homes and there are people who could rent this space; it seems to make sense that these people should come together. But because of inclusionary zoning by-laws–which are supported by residents who are worried about an increase in crime in their neighborhoods–this solution remains to be manifested.

The province’s ten-year plan to end homelessness includes the appointment of a provincial secretariat, which will be headed by the associate minister responsible for affordable housing and urban development Yvonne Fritz. Fritz will be able to share expertise between different municipalities. However, the secretariat isn’t expected to be in place until Apr. 2008, meaning this winter’s homeless population will literally be left out in the cold.

The province also controls legislation that disallows rent controls. Stelmach’s government has been rightly criticized for the move not to introduce rent controls from groups across the province that are aiming to combat homelessness. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Calgary will have the largest decline in rental affordability out of Canada’s five largest cities this year. Rent controls are an essential short-term solution that would curb the growth in the homeless population across the province.

A new City Council was voted in this Oct. and their constituents surely didn’t elect them to argue over titles. As for the province, an election is imminent and voters will not be kind to a shepard that does not take care of its flock. Both the City of Calgary and the province need to act on homelessness and they need to do it now. Every day it’s postponed means another night on the freezing streets for one of our own.

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