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Newest commitments to end homelessness met with approval

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By Shari Narine Sweetgrass Contributing Editor EDMONTON







June 6, 2016.

Recent moves by both the federal and provincial governments to address affordable housing are “something for the toolbox” in the battle against homelessness.

But affordable housing is only one element in the incredibly complex challenge that leaves too many people homeless, says Susan McGee, executive director with Homeward Trust Edmonton.

“Homelessness is the result of a lot of factors. Everybody who experiences homelessness has their own journey,” said McGee. 

To help address the complexity of homelessness, Homeward Trust employs the Housing First model. Housing First gets people into homes first and then helps them stay in their homes by offering support in other areas, such as addictions, mental or physical health issues.

Homeward Trust has been working with the federal government since 2000 to address homelessness. Edmonton – along with Calgary, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo – and a total of 61 designated cities across the country will benefit from an increased $111.8 million in funding the Trudeau government announced in its March budget. Last week, a few more details on the Homelessness Partnering Strategy were outlined. Among the priorities set was $12.5 million toward innovative solutions to homelessness, focusing on Indigenous Canadians, youth, women fleeing violence and veterans.

Homeward Trust Edmonton also works with the city’s homeless Aboriginal community. McGee says her organization is unique in that it has Aboriginal leadership, which includes a minimum four Aboriginal board members as well as an Aboriginal advisory council. The primary partnership is carried out with Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, which has a Housing First team bankrolled by Homeward Trust.

The federal government has also committed to ongoing funding.

“That’s going to require us to ensure that there’s long term plans in place, that we can be thoughtful in our planning,” said McGee.

Earlier in the week, the province introduced the Modernized Municipal Government Act, which allows, among other measures, municipalities to reserve a portion of a new development for affordable housing. Inclusionary housing, a practise used across North America, provides increased affordable housing and promotes diverse, inclusive communities.

McGee says inclusionary housing is a welcomed approach to affordable housing but it’s also an approach that needs to be planned carefully. It has the potential of being an unwelcomed financial burden on housing developers as well as leading to the not-in-my-backyard attitude from existing residents. She says inclusionary housing needs to be part of the city’s overall planning and not be undertaken on a project-by-project basis so expectations are clear. There also needs to be more programs to address the cost of affordable housing so that costs are not picked up solely be new housing development, she adds.

“There definitely needs to be continued conversation about how to not have policy changes actually have the negative impact they could have, but instead realize their full potential for positive impact,” said McGee. “In order to end homelessness, we need to address the overall need for affordable housing in our communities.”

McGee is pleased by steps taken by both levels of government. Up until this point, she says, the tools available to municipalities to address homelessness have been limited.

“If we can increase (the affordable housing) supply overall, that’s a really positive thing,” she said.

While further clarification is still needed from both levels of government, McGee is encouraged by the commitment that has been shown.

“There’s a lot of potential and a lot of good work that’s been done in communities in the last couple of years to get some projects ready for development and we’re definitely excited that it’s not just a one year commitment, but that it’s a multi-year commitment,” she said.