Canadian program aims to give 20,000 homeless people a permanent residence by 2018

National Post, June 17, 2015 - A national campaign is hoping to give 20,000 homeless Canadians a permanent roof over their heads by 2018.

The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) said Tuesday it has already signed up  21 communities, including Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, and Halifax, to take part.

The alliance will train volunteers to survey the homeless and create a priority list to determine who is most in need of permanent housing.

“Everybody wants to make a change, but our homeless systems and government seem to be trapped in inertia,” said Tim Richter, the group’s president.

The idea for the campaign came from a U.S. initiative to find permanent homes for 100,000 homeless people in four years. This recruited 175 communities and surpassed its goal by finding homes for 105,580 people.

CAEH’s campaign will cost about $1 million annually to run and Richter hopes to recruit more participants, such as Toronto.

Most of the money will come from Ottawa’s Housing First, which received $600 million in 2014 to last over four years.

The Housing First strategy suggests the most effective and cost-efficient way to help the homeless is by finding somewhere for them to live.

Medicine Hat, Alta., has been working on such a plan since 2009, using money from Ottawa and the  province.

Workers there try to to find homes within 10 days of finding people living in shelters or on the streets. Typically, the city pays the first month of rent and a security deposit, then it subsidizes rents for the next 12-18 months.

“The normal response to homelessness has been the crisis response,” Richter said.

“You realize you have a bunch of homeless people and you create a shelter. You realize a bunch of people in that shelter have addiction problems, you create an addiction program. The next thing you know you have this whole series of crisis responses.”

Richter said Canada spends $7 billion a year on the homeless, but finding permanent housing for them in Alberta would only cost $18,000 per individual.

“The cure is housing,” he said. “It’s making that important shift from managing homelessness to ending it.”

Housing advocate Katrina Blanchard-Gervais agrees. The woman, who was homeless for about two years in Hamilton, Ont., now has her own apartment and is working on the 20,000 homes campaign.

She says she heard about the U.S. version  when she was living in a transitional home for women.

“I thought, ‘Why aren’t we doing this here?’ ” she said.

“I was doing my best through social media to see if we had any kind of equivalent here and I came across the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.”

Homeless people should not be waiting to find homes, Blanchard-Gervais explains.

“When you’re the person who’s homeless, you can’t wait,” she said. “You don’t have two more years. We need something now.”

Being homeless also made her appreciate the simple pleasures of a stable life.

“When you go home … your towels are still hanging in the same place you left them this morning,” she said.

“Your toothbrush is where you left it last night.”

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