Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 19, 2007
Homelessness is not a one-size-fits all dilemma
Each homeless person carries their own specific needs and profound wounds to heal
A Shepherd Speaks
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
Pathways to Housing will re-house and support 50 chronically homeless individuals over the next year.
Everyone deserves safe, decent, affordable housing in which they can feel secure.
The phenomenon of homelessness is by no means new. Across the ages, homelessness has continued as a concomitant of extreme poverty.
In many communities, as the homeless began to make greater use of outdoor public spaces, municipal authorities responded with a variety of strict countermeasures, such as the ejection of homeless people encamped under bridges and highway viaducts and public parks.
Pejorative terms, like "vagrants" and "bums" so easily entered our vocabulary. They are still used by those who stereotypically regard the homeless as men and women too lazy to work rather than as human beings caught in a complex web of social and economic factors over which they have little control.
Today, however, there are signs of a growing consciousness of the fact that homelessness is a complex and individual process. One size doesn't fit all. Individual people and their respective life stories are too complex to fit neatly in the simple boxes or categories.
It is possible to identify a number of combined underlying conditions that increase the probability of homelessness such as poverty, physical or mental illness or disability including addictions, family conflict and the lack of education.
There are also certain triggering events that can cause the loss of housing: financial crisis, moving for economic or social opportunity, health crisis, physical and sexual abuse, landlord/roommate conflict, crime and bad luck.
It is significant that 65 per cent of people find their own way out of homelessness, but the less resilient become trapped in a system of multiple, cumulative barriers. System navigation for assistance is difficult even for professional caregivers, not to mention clients or recipients, as there are more than 2,000 programs and services, three levels of government, eight provincial departments and more than 140 charities providing help in Alberta.
- WCR photo by Ramon Gonzalez
Edmonton's homeless pitched their tents in a downtown vacant lot this summer as affordable housing disappeared for many of the city's poor.
There is also the issue of shelter environment; employment barriers (address, education, transportation, hygiene, sleep), insufficient income, addiction, mental and physical illness, conditional housing (sobriety, criminal record, debt), institutional recycling, and the lack of affordable housing.
Thirty-five per cent of the homeless have been homeless for more than a year.
The Calgary Committee to End Homelessness, in partnership with the Alex Community Health Centre, has initiated a housing first pilot project to address chronic homelessness. Pathways to Housing will re-house and support 50 chronically homeless individuals over the next year. Once housed, clients will receive 24/7 support from an integrated health and wellness team. The team will work with clients as long as they need in order to address their emotional, psychiatric, medical and human needs.
What makes this approach revolutionary is that it turns the traditional approach to homelessness on its head. In the traditional approach, people experiencing homelessness were expected to be made "housing ready" - to be free of addictions and have their mental health illness addressed - before they were ready for housing.
By being given permanent housing first and being supported in that housing, clients are given an opportunity to work on the issues that contributed to their homelessness from the stability and safety of housing. It is not only a more humane approach but also more cost effective and better stewardship of limited resources.
Clients are required to pay 30 per cent of their income towards their rent; they must meet the terms of their lease and agree to one visit per week from their support team.
Housing First has an average housing success rate of 85 per cent across the U.S. and Toronto.
Continuing education about the causes of homelessness, addressing the social and political dimensions of poverty, drawing close to the homeless and sharing with a brother or sister from our abundance, will give us a heart that sees that everyone has a safe, decent, affordable house in which they can feel secure.
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