A city in need

Stampede event highlights continuing urgency to house Calgarians in need

With the Calgary Stampede shining a spotlight on our city’s sense of community, an event held during this year’s Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth highlighted the continuing needs of some of our community’s most vulnerable citizens.

As part of Stampede Week, Horizon Housing – one of several local organizations dedicated to housing the city’s most vulnerable residents – held a barbecue, with residents on hand from the organization’s properties.

Serving tenants with a variety of special needs – including those with mental health challenges, physical disability, families and seniors living below the poverty line and the working poor – Horizon Housing executive director Kim O’Brien said while the current state of Alberta’s economy is debatable, it hasn’t changed the willingness of Calgarians to give to a good cause.

“The Calgary Stampede is all about coming together as a community and celebrating everything that makes this city great,” she said.

“We’re very mindful and respectful of the fact that individuals and corporations that we’re in discussions with have seen their circumstances change, but the interest and the discussion and desire from those individuals to become engaged with the campaign has not changed,” she said.

A testament to the sort of community spirit showcased during the Calgary Stampede, O’Brien relayed the story of Calgary law firm Osler, which, in light of the recent economic climate, put aside its plans for a Stampede Party in favour of contributing to the RESOLVE campaign – a one-time fundraising campaign designed to see Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness come to fruition.

The first such initiative in Canada, the Plan to End Homelessness started in 2008 and aims to house those experiencing chronic and episodic homelessness.

Linking nine Calgary social service agencies, including Horizon Housing and the Calgary Homeless Foundation, RESOLVE’s long-term goal is to build supported rental housing for 3,000 Calgarians by raising $120 million by 2018.

Ongoing energy sector uncertainty has seen an increase in the number of Albertans finding themselves out of work in recent months. In May, Alberta’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.8 per cent, up from 5.5 per cent in April up from 4.7 per cent a year earlier.

With such a large increase in the number of financially vulnerable residents, the possibility to securing donations and the prospect of more Calgarians finding themselves without a home is one that can’t be ignored, said said Amy Hurst, senior manager of communications for RESOLVE.

“Obviously homelessness is a huge issue in the city no matter what the economy is doing,” she said. “With Calgary, we’ve had these peaks several times, so it’s not anything new to the city. It’s just that – how we fundraise – we’ve had to be a little bit more creative and try to make sure that the donor is being represented better.”

In April, RESOLVE welcomed a $1-million donation courtesy of RBC, which will eventually be put toward construction of 160-unit building for the Horizon Housing Society.

Construction is also underway on Stepping Stone Manor, RESOLVE’s own 30-unit assisted-living apartment building for adults in the Beltline.

According to the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF), it costs about $35,000 less per person per year to provide housing with social supports, rather than cycling people through public support systems.

While the CHF has housed nearly 6,000 people with support to date, the current economy is creating additional needs among Calgarians, said foundation president and CEO Diana Krecsy.

“We are hearing though from the street level that people are starting to come in,” she said. “Times are getting tough. People are using the food bank. People who have lost jobs are certainly coming in to the shelters. People in the system are saying, ‘Is there somewhere else I can live? I can’t pay my rent. I need some income support.’

“People (are beginning) to understand that homeless people are just regular people – that life events happen and it can happen to you. You can lose a job very quickly. You can become out of control when a two-income family becomes a one-income family”

Discussing solutions for easing the burden faced by those on the lower end of the housing spectrum, Krecsy said the best fix would be to bolster the city’s stock of accessible housing.

“It’s that trickle-down thing,” she said. “People are asking me are we getting more availability of rental space because people losing their jobs are leaving the province. And while that’s true – we are seeing some opening up of availability of apartments for rent – what we’re not seeing is the price point change.

“So while the market seems to be opening for rental space, they’re not affordable spaces that people can get into. That they still can’t afford it because they’re either unemployed or living in poverty and we don’t have affordable housing space. That’s not been fixed yet, so we really need to push at getting affordable space in the city.”

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