News Talk 980, Jun 30, 2015 - The more homeless people that can be housed in Saskatoon, the more taxpayers stand to save.
On Tuesday, the United Way released its first-year report on its three-year Plan to End Homelessness program. Dubbed the ‘Journey Home,’ the United Way’s goal was to find safe and stable housing for the chronically homeless. They reported housing 24 of Saskatoon’s worst-case homeless. They plan on housing up to 100 over the next two years.
“If we do nothing to help house these 100 people they accumulate, as an expense, over $7 million in the public system. But what will it costs us over three years? $2.7 million, so the right thing to do is clear, is it not?” Journey Home Campaign chair Grant McGrath asked a room packed with supporters.
The Journey Home began in 2014 when the United Way contracted the Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service to deliver a housing program in Saskatoon. They used an assessment tool and conducted interviews to find the chronically homeless. The 24 individuals they helped house had an average length of homelessness of three to five years. One person had been homeless for as long as 17 years.
Of the 24 individuals, two were between the ages of 18-25, eight were between 26 and 40, 13 were 41-60 and one was over 60.
Shan Landry worked as a lead in the Journey Home program, and she explained that once they started housing the homeless, the need for health care , social services and emergency services went down dramatically.
“Once housing is in place some of the difficulties that lead to homelessness can be addressed,” she said.
Prior to housing the first 24 participants, those same people needed 400 emergency rooms visits, now they’ve only needed 84 after housing. Before housing there were 89 instances where individuals spent a night in a police cell because of intoxication. Since they were housed they’ve only had nine overnight stays; the reduction in inappropriate services used by the individuals in the program shrunk by 82 per cent.
“When you’re moving around and you have no stable place to wash, take care of yourself, that can make you likely to turn to alcohol or some other substances to forget your troubles,” Landry said, adding these behaviours lead to disease. “Some of our clients had serious infections like tuberculosis and HIV … so it works in a cycle that gets worse.”
The United Way’s Rita Field shared some stories of Saskatoon’s newest tenants, explaining how the United Way, and other agencies such as the Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership, Community Advisory Board, city police, the Saskatoon Health region and government ministries, work to help them adjust to new routines.
“One of the participants has a deteriorating medical condition; he cannot use public transport, spent months in hospital. He now has his own place and (we) went to pick him up and take him to the Roughrider training camp a few weeks ago and he said ‘besides getting a place to live, this was the best thing that has happened to him in decades,’” Field said.
“The journey home is about a return to citizenship – we help one person at a time and they have choice and if you ask them about quality of life, it changes dramatically.”