Alberta Politics

homeless count numbers show that progress is being made.

The results of the 2010 count of Edmonton’s Homeless population was released this morning as the 7-City Road Home conference started in our city. It was positive to see that the number of homeless counted this year was 2421, which is a decrease from the 3,079 counted in 2008. According to the organization that conducted the count, Homeward Trust, this year’s numbers are the lowest since 2004, when Edmonton’s homeless population was counted at 2,192 people.

These numbers are positive for our city and show the progress that has been made through the creation of housing-focused programs that provide stability, rather than band-aid solutions. Many of these programs were only made successful through the cooperation of the City of Edmonton and the provincial and federal governments.

“Edmontonians have said that homelessness is unacceptable” said Mayor Stephen Mandel. “With the adoption of the ten year plan and its implementation through Homeward Trust, working with the Homeless Commission and our city’s agencies and service providers, we are already seeing tremendous results in the first two years.”

The numbers are positive, but also show how much more work needs to be done in order to reach the goals set in the 10 year plan to eliminate homelessness. The work done over the past two years also signals a shift by the provincial government, which spent much of the 1990s cutting funding for many of the social and mental health programs. Those cuts created an environment where chronic homelessness became the only option for some of our City’s most vulnerable people.

Over the past year, I have volunteered at two of the Homeward Trust-organized Homeless Connect events at the Shaw Conference Centre and for the recent homeless count, from which the numbers released today were collected. As I have written before, they were both sobering and fulfilling experiences. As someone who is lucky to have a stable life and home, I find it is sometimes easy to forget about the people in our city who are not so lucky. Volunteering at these events have been both a healthy reminder and a way to help some of our neighbours who are not as well off.

The result of the economic slowdown over the past three years has affected the numbers, which show less strain on homeless shelters and a higher vacancy rate, but there have also been over 900 people housed through the programs funded through Homeward Trust.

In a media release distributed this morning, Homeward Trust Executive Director Susan McGee clearly described the successes and continued challenges facing our city when it comes to ending homelessness:

“We’ve seen signs of success in implementing the provincial and civic plans to end homelessness” said Susan McGee, Executive Director of Homeward Trust Edmonton. “Over 1000 people have found homes through Housing First, and overnight shelter use is decreasing. But the need for services and programs remains high, and with over 2400 Edmontonians still without a home, there is still a lot of work to be done.”

6 replies on “homeless count numbers show that progress is being made.”

I cannot possibly see this as progress. Homeward Trust alone has supposedly found homes for 900 homeless, and yet the city-wide numbers have only dropped by 600?

Here’s a hint Dave: a really successful program to eliminate homelessness would remove MORE people than the number housed. Spend the money to put 1,000 people into homes, you should hope at least the same number are given damn good reason to get the hell out of town. Housing 1,000 people to just create a vacuum in the ecosystem where another 1,000 are starting to move in (and more behind them) is not progress, it’s regress. And its using tax dollars that should not be wasted on such programs.

FACLC: thanks for the comment. Yes, I see this is progress and there is a lot more work to do. It is positive for our city that the count found ~600 less homeless people than it did in 2008. It is also positive that there have been around 900 people housed since then. I imagine the numbers reflected a population that, like a lot of Alberta, is influx.

You don’t sound like you have much faith in individuals, I do. I believe that helping provide stable housing, arguably the most important factor in helping someone get back on their feet, is a great use of public funds.

I have as much faith in individuals as can be placed in them: not individuals sucking back on the nipple provided by the tax base.

Remember that the ultimate goal of a homeless strategy is supposed to be that at some point in the future there are supposed to be fewer homeless people. You sort of grasp this, but perhaps not in its entirety.

Since every homeless person housed by either private charity (yay) or government program (boo) costs money, ideally a solution to homelessness means that of this X number of homeless people reduced, as few of them as possible are reduced through “finding them a home”.

If we can reduce the homeless by 600 people without putting a single one into a home, that’s clearly a better output than reducing the homeless count by 600 people by putting 400 into a home, or 600 into a home, or 900 into a home, or 9500 into a home. The goal is not to “put Y people in homes”, its to reduce the number of homeless. Putting people into homes is easy (though hideously expensive).

What we want are for the homeless to not be here anymore. With almost any other strategy you can think of cheaper than the housing option, its not particularly important how we do this: turning them into soylent green, putting them on a bus to Winnipeg, or letting them get elected in Ward 10. If the province’s homelessness task force sat on their hands as Vancouver built a homeless theme park, and Edmonton’s homeless actually bought a bus ticket with that money they told you they needed for a bus ticket, that’s a solid entry in the “W” column.

More homeless people are coming to Edmonton (900+ being a bigger number than 600). That we are spending money housing homeless people, its not hard to see, will in time be causing a steady increase in their numbers rather than a decrease. It’s especially easy since its already happening. Unless you plan on closing off the borders so that we can cut off the influx of destitute arriving on our doorstep, your great use of public funds will be a less and less great use and greater and greater public funds.

@FACLC: Your heartless approach to this issue offers no help at all. “…What we want are for the homeless to not be here anymore.” Maybe the only solution acceptable to you involves boxcars.

For the rest of us, this is a complex issue that is not amenable to simple or inexpensive solutions. There are many causes of homelessness, and reducing this scourge requires addressing all of them. In our northern climate, very few homeless people choose to be so. But often they are dealing with intractable mental health issues and addictions. Others find themselves dealing with sudden job loss in circumstances that leave them without options.

As for responsible use of public funds, anything that helps people get off the streets and into safe and affordable housing, and then into returning to being productive members of society, is an investment that pays off in spades through savings in health care, policing and corrections.

Jerry, I notice you missed the bit about having to close off the borders. Unless you expect the Government of Alberta and the City of Edmonton to buy homes for the entire homeless population of Canada, you won’t be “reducing this scourge”: you’ll be buying extremely expensive accommodations for people (using my money, another point you gloss over: how heartless are you to dare rob me of my earned wealth just so you can feel good about soup kitchens?) only to have as many if not more people move in; partly to take advantage of these expensive government programs and partly to fill the street corners and alleyways now abandoned.

On a similar basis, the Province of Alberta does not pay (well, they do under transfer payments, but let’s look at a perfect world where they don’t exist) for the healthcare, policing, or corrections in other provinces. Having homeless people go there or stay there gives us the same “paying off in spades” with none of the outlay.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *