Annalise Klingbeil, Calgary Herald, October 28, 2014 - It’s the little things that Ellen Riley likes most about her new apartment: A bathtub she doesn’t have to share with anyone else, a kitchen she can cook in and the thermostat.
“Today I went outside and I came back in and it was warm. It was so nice,” said the 57-year-old, who was living on the streets last year at this time. “I have a soaker tub and I can get in it whenever I want. No one gets to use it but me.”
After spending several years homeless in Calgary and Montreal, Riley recently moved into her own Calgary apartment with help from the YWCA.
Riley’s story of being homeless is one that thousands of Canadians can relate to, and her experience of going from the streets to housing with support is one organizations across the country work daily to make a reality for homeless Canadians.
A national report on the state of homelessness in Canada, being released Wednesday, says while homelessness continues to be a “major crisis” across the country, it’s a problem that can be solved with targeted investments in supportive and affordable housing.
The 73-page State of Homelessness in Canada report comes as Calgary is overwhelmed by migration, and rising rents combined with packed emergency shelters have critics questioning the success of the city’s ongoing 10-year plan to end homelessness.
With at least 35,000 Canadians homeless on any given night, and thousands more at risk of losing their homes, the report states ending homelessness across the country is possible and the “one missing piece of the puzzle is affordable housing.”
The second annual report traces the rise of modern homelessness back to the withdrawal of the federal government’s investment in affordable housing and notes despite the Canadian population increasing by nearly 30 per cent over the past 25 years, annual national investment in housing has decreased by 46 per cent.
“The federal cuts to affordable housing began in the ’80s,” said Tim Richter, an author of the report and head of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.
The report provides recommendations that would create 88,000 new units of supportive and affordable housing over a decade, eliminate chronic homelessness and reduce shelter stays.
The six recommendations include a “new federal, provincial territorial affordable housing framework agreement” and the creation of an “affordable housing tax credit” designed to give private equity investors reduction in federal income tax for dollars invested in affordable housing projects.
“This credit could be an absolute boon to affordable housing in Calgary,” Richter said.
The report’s six proposals would cost $3.7 billion annually, an increase of $1.7 billion from the projected annual federal commitments.
It costs more to ignore the problem than fix it, states the report, which estimates homelessness costs Canadians more than $7 billion per year.
Richter said there’s no evidence that homelessness is getting worse across the country, but there’s also no evidence it’s improving.
“The big challenge in Canada is we don’t have good data on the number of people experiencing homelessness,” he said.
The report emphasizes that Canada is at an important crossroads and all levels of government, and the private sector, have a role to play in building new housing to tackle the issue.
In Calgary, a campaign called Resolve is working to raise $120 million from the private sector for the construction of affordable housing for 3,000 people.
The more people who can move off the streets and into housing, the better, said Riley, who found herself at the YWCA Winter Emergency Response program last winter.
After spending time at the shelter, which is open from November to April in an effort to prevent freezing deaths in chronically homeless women, Riley transitioned into permanent housing.
For Riley, having her own home after years on the “scary, cold, unsafe” streets is a pleasure, and one she hopes the estimated 235,000 Canadians who experience homelessness each year get to enjoy.