November 29, 2016.
Homelessness in Alberta has dropped dramatically since 2008.
Preliminary figures released Tuesday by the 7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness show a 31 per cent decrease in 2016 from eight years earlier.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Susan McGee, director for Homeward Trust Edmonton, which coordinated the count in the capital. “It’s not surprising knowing how many individuals have been housed and knowing how much work has happened in the last two years to focus on the chronically homeless.”
However, the Indigenous population still accounts for a disproportionate number of those homeless. Of the 5,373 enumerated as homeless, more than one-quarter at 28 per cent were Indigenous. While the exact numbers for Indigenous populations in the seven cities is not known, in 2011, the Indigenous population made up four per cent of that overall population.
McGee says Homeward Trust works with Indigenous organizations to provide supports and programming in a cultural manner.
“The fact that the number remains high speaks to the larger responsibility that we have for Indigenous housing both on and off reserve and it is a more complicated issue in terms of getting to the contributing factors and the level of support and we really need to work with leadership on that,” she said.
In Lethbridge, 54 per cent of that city’s 89 homeless were Indigenous. Lethbridge experienced the second largest decrease in homelessness from 2008 at 68 per cent.
Edmonton followed a close second with 48 per cent of its 1,752 homeless being Indigenous. That’s a climb from 46 per cent Indigenous homeless from the 2014 count. In Edmonton, 5.4 per cent of the population self-identifies as Indigenous.
In Wood Buffalo and Red Deer, Indigenous people who were homeless represented 43 per cent and 40 per cent in counts of 91 and 149, respectively.
In Grande Prairie and Medicine Hat, Indigenous homeless accounted for approximately one-third of the 127 and 33 homeless counted, respectively.
In Calgary, which counted the most homeless at 3,222, 20 per cent of those are Indigenous. Calgary has a self-identified Indigenous population of 2.8 per cent. In October 2016, Calgary’s unemployment rate was one of the highest of any major Canadian city at 10.2 per cent. In October 2014, Calgary’s unemployment rate was five per cent. The population increase has slowed considerably over the last two years, but Calgary is a city that continues to grow.
The city that experienced the largest decrease in homelessness was Red Deer at 83 per cent.
“Housing First is working in our community, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t new and different pressures,” said McGee.
Housing First provides permanent housing and follow-up support for 12 months leading to self-sufficiency.
Despite the decreased numbers of homeless, McGee says people are struggling to get by. She says the pressure on food banks is a clear indication of that struggle.
“People who are experiencing homelessness for a short period of time right now are maybe managing to keep a roof over their head, but they’re still struggling in other ways,” she said. “We know there are many people in our community living in poverty… and who are looking for short term assistance.”
The point-in-time homeless count was held in the 7 cities on Oct. 19, 2016. It was the second provincially-coordinated point-in-time homeless count. In 2014, Alberta was the first jurisdiction to implement measures toward a more standardized point-in-time count methodology. The count was part of an initiative led by the 7 cities in collaboration with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness to develop a harmonized approach to homeless counts nationally.
McGee says that the point-in-time count is a good indication of trends and what is going on in communities, but the focus needs to remain on working with those who are chronically homeless.