THIS WEEK IS HOMELESSNESS AWARENESS WEEK.
Part I: A Brief Intro and Statistics
In March of 2009, the Provincial Government released A Plan for Alberta, Ending Homelessness in 10 years. The plan emphasizes a Housing First model of ending homelessness, which is a client-centered approach that removes all pre-conditions to being housed. In this model, priority is placed on providing affordable, safe and permanent housing quickly, with minimal requirements for homeless persons beyond signing a standard lease agreement. A similar model has been used successfully in Malmö, Sweden where I used to live, and I was able to attend a university course together with several people who had previously been homeless, but that now had apartments. They told me about their how living on the streets had affected them, about the difficulties, the toll it takes on your self-esteem, your mental and physical health – about belongings and belonging. Having their own home changed everything.
The 2010 Housing Needs Count states that the homeless population in the Lower Town Site in Fort McMurray has dropped by approximately 40% in a span of two years – after experiencing a steady increase since 2003 – implying that the Regional Government’s incentive to provide affordable, safe and permanent housing quickly using the Housing First initiative has gotten results (Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Housing Needs Count, 2010). This was the first homeless count in the region since the municipality adopted its 10-year plan to end homelessness (Lin, 2010). However, most of the affordable housing in connection to the Housing First initiative is funded by non-profit social services that are relying heavily on the rental costs to remain low. I haven’t found any updated statistics.
In 2012/13 I wrote my thesis about the potential gentrification of the downtown area of Fort McMurray. During my research I came across a couple of things that bothered me, but one sentence more than anything. This is a short excerpt:
“[t]hese goals implies that the Lower Town Site will be an economically and culturally diverse area, but the Lower Town Site Area Redevelopment Plan also expresses a discrepancy between different residents when discussing the recreational areas: ‘Many residents feel unsafe accessing these areas as they are heavily overgrown, strewn with garbage, and frequently occupied by homeless people’ (Lower Town Site Area Redevelopment Plan, 2012, p 17). Thus, the ‘diverse population’ does not seem to include persons such as the homeless.”
How would you feel, being an “it” in need of removal?
This week is homelessness awareness week, culminating with the Hope In The Dark event this Saturday May 30th, organized by Centre of Hope. I know most of us wont be able to be there and spend the night outside. If you are unable to attend the outdoors sleepover, please think of your reasons why – and imagine having the same reasons, but no choice. There is no home. Whether you feel sick or have things to do or children to care for; there’s no choice. Even if you can’t attend, please spread the word, join the discussion, donate or volunteer – and help us end homelessness.