Being homeless during the summer in our cities and rural Alberta means that it can be more visible. Currently, Alberta is the only province with a plan to end homelessness based on the housing-first philosophy, community-based leadership, support for local expertise and the encouragement of more partnerships between all levels of governments.
This plan to end homelessness in 10 years was released in October 2008, under the leadership of then-premier Ed Stelmach and was viewed by some as not realistic or achievable. In my mind, it was transformational and courageous.
So here we are 10 years later. I am proud to have been a small part of this ongoing journey with the release of a youth homelessness plan in 2015, a first in Canada and the implementation of a working group for LGBTQ youth homelessness.
We have work to do and it is important to highlight the excellent work and initiatives on homelessness across Alberta. Through the incredible, collaborative work of organizations like the 7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness which include Homeward Trust Edmonton, Calgary Homeless Foundation, the Cities of Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Red Deer, Medicine Hat and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, innovations and knowledge leadership continue.
Another important link is the Alberta Rural Development Network (ARDN), a not-for-profit organization that uses the combined expertise of nine Alberta post-secondary institutions to support rural development and help rural communities grow through research and learning. There are over 45 communities that are part of ARDN and many are facing the issue of rural homelessness.
A recent publication by ARDN in May 2019, “Step-by-Step Guide to Estimating Rural Homelessness for Rural and Remote Communities,” provides a survey tool for communities to use in Alberta and across Canada as well. Dee Ann Benard, with ARDN, notes that homelessness is often hidden or even invisible in rural communities and includes couch-surfing, living in a tent, camper trailer, car, garage or abandoned houses. The challenge is, if there is no tangible data available, then adequate resources and funding are not available.
There is a huge need for more affordable and supportive housing with support workers, in urban and rural Alberta. A survey commissioned by ARDN estimated that about 15,000 people in rural Alberta are are homeless or currently living in unstable housing conditions with high housing costs, poor home quality or overcrowding. If there are no resources or supports available, often some homeless individuals or families end up in the city closest to them.
Now that we have the National Housing Strategy Act, which received royal assent on June 21, by the federal government, everything will work out. Right? While I appreciate the sentiment of this legislation, I am uncertain as to what it means and what is expected of provincial governments from a funding perspective.
The act is based on the recognition of rights under Canadian law that adequate housing is a fundamental right. A national housing strategy will then be developed in a public document that outlines targets, timelines and initiatives on housing and homelessness. Accountability will be through the creation of a federal housing advocate who will advise, monitor implementation, measure the impact and consult with the public about housing issues.
One can hope that the advocate will attend the 2019 Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) conference from Nov. 4 to 6 in Edmonton. I know that Susan McGee, her team at Homeward Trust and others, are working hard to engage the entire community, both urban and rural for courageous discussions and further partnerships with organizations like Habitat for Humanity Edmonton.
We are fortunate to have this national conference here and I encourage you to get involved. Homelessness can affect anyone and we all need a place to call home.