Who are our homeless? You never know; it could be anybody. It’s possible that the young woman who served you coffee today is a single mother at risk of homelessness if she encounters just one more expense. Perhaps the friendly middle-aged gentleman who pumped your gas will spend tonight on a friend's couch. Even though they work full-time, the gap between their income and rent is just too wide. Would it surprise you to imagine the family you saw on the bus will sleep tonight in an unsafe building, not fit for human habitation? Because of circumstances out of their control, these parents are just unable to secure a decent place to live while feeding and clothing their children. Consider the youth that you passed earlier today. They may be suffering the effects of inter-generational trauma and neglect leaving them without the skills to live independently. There may be other health, trauma, addiction or mental health concerns that contribute to their inability to maintain housing.
These are harsh realities in our community, and throughout our country. Raising the Roof calls it “terrible crisis of homelessness in Canada.”
Bringing Lethbridge Home believes it is time to go beyond resolving homelessness by changing the way we address it through access to the ‘right housing and supports’. The time to end it in our community has come and Bringing Lethbridge Home exists, quite simply, to do just that.
Socio-economic factors that impact the housing and homeless situation in Lethbridge include:
The availability of appropriate and affordable housing continues to be a challenge despite the increased vacancy rate of 8.8% (CMHC, Spring, 2013). A further analysis of the vacancy rate and its limitations regarding affordability and the development of an Affordable Housing Plan is currently underway. Availability of Affordable Housing: Despite the reported Vacancy Rate, the implementation of a Housing Registry and HomeBASE, Housing First teams consistently report barriers and challenges faced by service participants to acquire affordable market rental housing.
Lethbridge has been identified as one of the top ten destination communities to settle in Canada. Immigrant Services reports over 1490 new Canadians were served in Lethbridge this past year. This also includes Lethbridge as the destination for over 500 Bhutanese refugee families this past year.
First Nations People
Lethbridge is adjacent to the two largest reserves in Canada. Increasingly, people are choosing to move off reserve to seek employment, attend post secondary school and seek an improved quality of life for themselves and their families. The migration to Lethbridge is significant and the transition from reserve to urban life requires support and appropriate housing. The current migration study will better inform the intensity and programming required for the continuous improvement of the Housing First Team for Aboriginal people. Additionally it is noted that the profile of the Aboriginal family is also changing with more men becoming lone parents as they transition from reserve to urban life.
People living with low incomes
People living with low incomes continue to impact access to safe and affordable housing. In Alberta, Lethbridge has the third highest rate of people living below LICO at over 16% of the population. This includes 1:5 children in Lethbridge are living in poverty (Poverty Profile in Alberta and StatsCan, 2006). Within the framework of the Social Policy, Lethbridge has engaged the community in a poverty reduction strategy, Vibrant Lethbridge.
People with mental and physical disabilities
The number of people living with mental and physical disabilities also has an impact on people’s ability to obtain and sustain accessible and affordable permanent housing. Lethbridge experiences a higher per capita (2.6% of the total population) of AISH recipients than other communities in Alberta with a 15% growth since 2009. Lethbridge is challenged to meet the increasing support service demands this has on the community.
Lethbridge is experiencing a significant presence of youth homelessness and those at risk. Prevention of homelessness continues to be a priority with this population. This is clearly demonstrated through a community collaborative approach has been launched to prevent youth homelessness and provide the right services to those youth exiting care, the foster system as well as those not associated with an existing service. Public sector organizations and not for profit sector as well as youth with lived experience are involved and steer this initiative. The Youth HUB and the implementation of the Housing First teams for youth are significant.
P12 Testing Centres
Lethbridge is proud to have supported the P12 Test Centre to improve people’s access to appropriate programs and services. This is a collaborative approach to design, test and implement an integrated service delivery approach for social-based programs and services for Albertans who are homeless. Over 20 of the test centre participants qualified for AISH support and are eligible for PDD services. However, this has placed additional pressures on the support services in the community including the supportive housing that is required.
Community Awareness and Education
Community awareness and education of the 5 Year Plan, the impact of homelessness and socio-economic benefits of prevention strategies and Housing First continue to be a significant role of the City and the Community Advisory Board through Social Housing in Action.
Social Integration and people’s abilities to fully participate in community life are enhanced with meaningful activities and a sense of purpose in community. This includes opportunities for employment, volunteerism, positive leisure activities and exposure to new possibilities.
Addressing Root Causes
The ability to prevent homelessness is directly related to the addressing its root causes. This requires a systemic approach to reduce poverty and increase appropriate access to income support, treatment and the prevention mental illness and addictions, unemployment, reducing occurrences of discharge into homelessness, increasing accessible services and eviction prevention strategies.
The solution, quite simply, is more affordable, appropriate housing along with Housing First supports to help people settle into adequate, permanent housing. This, along with the addition of community supports, can help people remain in their housing and participate fully and productively in society.