Alberta Politics

edmonton housing first programs featured in huffington post.

There are many non-profit organizations working to end homelessness in Edmonton, so it was very encouraging to see some of that work recognized in front of an international audience this week. An article written by Mark Horvath for the Huffington Post highlighted the work done at the Jasper Place Health & Wellness Centre and their use of the housing first model. Mr. Horvath interviewed the Centre’s founder Murray Soroka, who is now the Director of the Housing First Program at Homeward Trust Edmonton.

From HuffPo:

For those that don’t know what “housing first” is, it’s a model where housing is provided first in a recovery plan. The old model is a homeless person has to get sober — or their mental illness go away — before some form of housing is provided. If you think about that for a second you will realize how unpractical the old model is. It’s nearly impossible to get sober while going to the bathroom behind a dumpster day after day. And mental illness left unattended on the streets does not heal itself. People need dignity to heal and housing must be first.

Of course, you can see why many people have trouble with this, and especially churches. Pay for an apartment and allow the person to continue to drink might seem crazy. But housing first saves lives and saves money. It has been proven time after time that once a person finds housing, they eventually want to change ON THEIR OWN. The typical church homeless solution is forced structure. A recovering homeless person does great while having structure in their life, but when they return to society, and the structure is gone, they often go back to drinking and drugs. And I should clarify some. Most, if not all, church recovery programs are very picky on who they allow in. The most drug-addicted and the most mentally ill are left to die on the street. The housing first model helps the most vulnerable who are ignored — yet need our help the most.

Let me be point-blank honest here. If we are going to really fight homelessness in our community, we must change from the old shelter system to more of the housing first model. We also need the support of the faith based communities. I still believe faith based organizations can make the biggest difference. I have traveled all over and have only seen a very few who are actually having a real impact permanently getting people off the street. You cannot imagine how excited I was when Murray told me a dozen or so churches are paying rent on 400 apartments for homeless people!

6 replies on “edmonton housing first programs featured in huffington post.”

It is a shame the Alberta government doesn’t embrace this approach. Nothing has changed since Klein insulted homeless people years ago.

Edmonton has a major problem with honouring the right of the disabled and marginalized to use the tools of democracy to reach full citizenship in the area of housing. I visited the Housing First contact group on Stoney Plain Road last year to try and arrange for a placement for a person who has multiple diagnoses and was just coming out of hospital. The Housing First reps said that this individual would have to have the approval of the person’s social worker, and financing arranged before they could be helped. I visited the MLA for the area that this outpatient lives in – and they would do what they could, but never got back to me.

It is amazing that this kind of paralysis is being tolerated, and the political culture in Alberta is still willing to indulge the anti-democratic use of police to hijack the meetings of Handicapped Housing Society on two occasions in 1997 – which resulted in the recognition of “privatization” of housing services as having more political legitimacy than the effective model that WAS working well, which was democratic community control of housing “by the handicapped – for the handicapped”.

I am appalled that the Opposition and the media have willingly stayed silent in the light of this huge criminal subversion of constitutional rights. I was very disappointed when I attended a meeting of the Tamil Federation at the Coast Terrace Hotel in June of 2009 and a prominent Liberal MLA said to me that the disabled community has got what they were asking for by siding with the Government in the last election. This is preposterous, when the Opposition MLAs have had ample opportunity to question the use of police in the interference of an Annual General Meeting of a provincially registered association, and the best that they could do is say “What do you expect in Ralph Klein’s Alberta? This clearly has not been good enough – and it should be obvious that if the Opposition is unwilling to lift a finger in defense of the democratic constitutional rights of a vulnerable population – these marginalized people must try and establish whatever rapport they can with the status quo.

Maybe Alberta can start showing some fidelity to democracy in 2011!

Best wishes to all for the holidays and the new year!

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