Alberta Politics

mark horvath and stories of the

Telling the story of homelessness through social media, Mark Horvath has been able to share the stories of homeless people across the United States and Canada to millions of Internet users. I had the great opportunity to meet Mr. Horvath this evening at an event hosted by Homeward Trust Edmonton where he shared his story, as well as the stories behind his ongoing project is a project started by Mr. Horvath after he found himself virtually homeless after the American economic collapse in the late 2000s. The project is dedicated to putting a face and story to the homeless through video interviews conducted by Mr. Horvath on the streets and in homeless shelters across Canada and the United States. To date, his videos have attracted over 2.4 million views and his project has drawn the support of companies like the Ford Motor Company and GMC, and Petro-Canada which have helped make his travels possible.

Does telling these stories make a difference for the people telling the stories? For some of these people, yes. During a March 2011 trip through Calgary, Mr. Horvath interviewed Donny Bixby, who was spending his nights sleeping in alleyways during the freezing cold weather. Donny had been homeless for 21 years.

This week, Mr. Horvath returned to Calgary to once again interview Donny, who is now living in an apartment and working two jobs. Following the initial video, Mr. Bixby was located by the Calgary Homeless Foundation, who helped him find housing through a Housing First approach to ending homelessness. CTV Calgary called it a homeless success story.

Alberta’s Housing First approach, championed by the Calgary Homeless Foundation and Homeward Trust Edmonton and supported through Alberta’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness, recognizes that one of the most important steps towards eliminating homelessness is by providing dignity and stability of having a home.

Speaking with CTV Calgary, Mr. Horvath contrasted Alberta’s ten-year plan to those in his country.

“In the States the ten year plan is pretty much a joke in most communities. Some are doing it, but not like they are here. Here in Calgary I think you’ve housed over 2000 people. That’s amazing for a community this size.”

One of Premier Ed Stelmach‘s boldest decisions during his time in office was to spearhead this plan to end homelessness in Alberta in a decade. Premier Stelmach provided the political will to guide the Ten Year Plan through its first three years. As he retires this Fall, it will be up to the next Premier to provide the political will to move this bold plan to end homelessness in our province through its next seven years. Let’s keep it going and prove Alberta can do it.

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!