page contents Vote Dylan Bressey, candidate for Grande Prairie City Council. Election 2017. page contents

Homelessness in Grande Prairie

 

THE SHORT VERSION

Addressing homelessness is important, not just for the people caught in it but also for society at large. It also makes fiscal sense since homelessness is expensive for all levels of government. The City cannot tackle this challenge on its own. It needs to engage the great non-profits, agencies, and social enterprises our community is fortunate to have. The City also needs to work hard at engaging other levels of government since they see the largest cost savings in reduced homelessness.

We do have a solid five-year plan to address homelessness. Council needs to make sure that this plan is properly resourced and monitored. In addition to the ideas laid out in this plan, Council should consider setting up a risk mitigation fund for landlords, creating better communication strategies for our available resources, and building a public washroom downtown.

 

THE LONG VERSION

On this page, I am going to talk a lot about statistics and policies. However, when talking about homelessness, it is important to remember that this is not about facts and numbers. It is about people and stories. We aren’t talking about problems to be solved, but about sons, daughters, parents, siblings, and friends to be cared for.

To learn about some Grande Prairie people I have met and heard about, I would encourage you to checkout this blog post: www.voteBressey.ca/blog/emotionaldoorknocking.

Now, to the facts and numbers.

Homelessness in Grande Prairie

The City has published all sorts of good data about local homelessness. I have included a link below. Perhaps the most relevant document is the Point in Time count. In April 2016, we did our best to survey our entire population of people without homes.

We found some good news: there was a 23% reduction since the Point in Time count of 2014. But there was also bad news: we still had 127 people experiencing homelessness. This count did not include people “couch surfing” with family and friends. It did include 8 single-mother families.

These numbers could get worse in the coming year. Many economic indicators are indicating a time of growth in Grande Prairie. This is good for our community, but it does bring downsides: many service providers tell me they expect to see homelessness numbers go up as the economy turns around and rents increase.

We have some work to do to make sure that everyone in Grande Prairie has a place to live.

Acting on Homelessness

The biggest factors in homelessness are physical and mental health, social environments, and economic conditions. People who are caught in unfortunate circumstances deserve dignity and the help needed to have a better future. Even when people struggle due to personal decisions, they should to be offered opportunity to change course and move forward in healthy ways. We need to address homelessness for the sake of people caught in it. Everyone should have a safe, warm, and dry place to sleep and a secure place to store their belongings.

Addressing homelessness is also beneficial to society. Chronic homelessness puts a strain on emergency rooms, RCMP resources, and other services we all rely on. Making sure everyone has a place to live helps downtown and other areas become more comfortable for the entire community. Most of us also value living in a community which cares for its vulnerable.

Finally, ending homelessness makes financial sense. From what I have read, supportive housing typically costs anywhere from $13,000 to $37,000 per person per year. That seems like a lot of money. But people who are chronically homeless access temporary shelter space and many other services. The cost to care for them adds up. Estimates I have seen of how much an average homeless person costs government range from $55,000 to $134,000 per person per year.

It is clear to me that homelessness is an issue we need to work hard to solve. It needs work both for the people caught within it and for the rest of us.

The City Can’t Do It Alone

The City needs to address homelessness. But it cannot do so on its own.

A key component of any strategy on homelessness will be the non-profit sector. Government can’t solve this by acting unilaterally. Non-profit professionals and volunteers bring vital passion, depth of knowledge, and experience to society’s problems. And government dollars used to address social issues are best spent when leveraging donations and volunteer service. We need to work hard to resource and partner with charitable organisations, faith communities, and social enterprises working with those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Sometimes cash support is appropriate. The City can also support programs by providing free or subsidized space, offering marketing, or lending the expertise of City staff.

Grande Prairie has many charities, agencies, and departments working with people who are homeless. From my interactions with them and my research, I am convinced we have the right people working on this. We might need more of them and we might need to resource them better, but I am very impressed by Grande Prairie’s professionals and volunteers. We need to continue to work hard at engaging and equipping them.

A key part of any strategy also needs to involve lobbying to and collaboration with the Provincial and Federal governments. From a taxpayer perspective, eliminating homelessness makes a lot of sense- it saves more money than it costs. However, much of this saving is in the health and justice systems, which are not municipal responsibilities. If they are the ones who will realize savings, other levels of government must be engaged in ending homelessness in Grande Prairie.

One clear lobbying priority I see: going after more funding for Permanent Supportive Housing. This is housing designed for individuals with complex needs which may include a combination of physical limitations, mental illness, cognitive impairments, and substance abuse. These people need housing that is combined with 24/7 on-site supports. My understanding is that we do not currently have this available in Grande Prairie, and it is also unavailable over much of the province.

What I Propose

The City recently published a 2015-2019 plan to eliminate homelessness. It includes four goal areas: increased infrastructure, integrated community partnerships, strengthened community resources, and increased education/awareness. Each goal area includes some specific plans and accountability mechanisms.

I don’t disagree with anything in this plan. However, I do hope that our next Council is diligent in resourcing it and demanding accountability. Council needs to revisit this plan frequently and ask “are we meeting the targets?” and “are the service providers implementing this receiving adequate resources?” If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” Council needs to be ready to adjust its direction and resource allocation.

I do have some ideas that were not included in this plan:

  • Mitigate risk for landlords. One action step in the five-year plan is “work with landlords and property managers to increase the number of units for hard-to-house individuals.” The primary way this plan seeks to do this is through educating landlors on the social need for affordable housing. However, I have talked to landlords about this need and their response is often something like “I get the importance and I want to help, but it is a huge risk for me.” The city should consider setting up a damage mitigation fund for landlords who face eviction or repair costs from renting to hard-to-house individuals. I envision landlords having to apply for this fund access before renting the unit so that we can make sure it is targeted appropriately.
  • Communication. Fragmentation of information is a concern in many areas of our City, including in our work addressing homelessness. There are great programs and resources available, but even front-line service providers are unaware of some. The City publishes a “Street Survival Guide” which is excellent, but hard to access. We should also create and maintain a simple website with a list of available resources (www.linkyeg.ca is a great example from Edmonton). Additionally, we should create information boards throughout downtown and in additional strategic locations. These should tell people about the most important available resources, where to access the City’s free wi-fi, and direct them to the resource website for additional information.
  • Downtown washroom. The first thing I did when I started campaigning was spend two days door knocking at businesses along 100 Ave. One of the main concerns I heard was owners and managers frequently having people who are homeless ask to use their washrooms. This creates issues for a business. Just as important, it provides no dignity to the person asking for a washroom. As we work on downtown, a public washroom needs to get built. This won’t just benefit our population which is homeless- it will also benefit the shoppers and tourists we are trying to attract downtown.

Ending homelessness will take a community effort. So I’d love to hear from you. Should we be doing more to address homelessness? What are some ways we can do that? Tag me on Facebook, send me an email, or give me a call. Most importantly, stop me for a chat when you see me in the community.

-Dylan

 

SOURCES

5 Year Plan to End Homelessness: http://www.cityofgp.com/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=12813

City documents and reports: http://www.cityofgp.com/index.aspx?page=905

Cost of Homelessness: http://caeh.ca/about-homelessness/the-cost-of-homelessness/