Homelessness in rural areas is on the rise and many communities are facing the challenge of supporting community members in need with limited resources and funds. “A lot of people think homelessness only exists in urban centers but recent research from Dr. Rebecca Schiff provides evidence that rural homelessness is not only prevalent, but in fact occurring at per capita rates that are greater than some urban centres,” explains Sydney Stenekes, Director of Homelessness Initiatives at the Rural Development Network (RDN).
This is where Reaching Home funding comes in to benefit communities. Often, rural communities need to develop new programs, shelters, and food bank services to support those in need - but have limited access to the funding needed.
“People who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness shouldn’t have to leave their home community to access support in urban centers. We believe in developing and investing in housing and services in smaller communities so folks don’t have to leave their communities and social networks to access supports and appropriate housing,” declares Sydney.
What is Reaching Home funding?
“The Reaching Home project is part of the Federal Government’s Homelessness Strategy that distributes funding to rural, remote, and Indigenous communities in Alberta, aimed at reducing and preventing homelessness across Canada,” Sydney explained.
The Reaching Home funding gets distributed to Alberta’s rural areas outside the seven major cities to support homelessness prevention and reduction. The Rural Development Network has been distributing funding for over 10 years to local organizations, municipalities, FCSS’s, Indigenous organizations, First Nations, and Métis communities across rural and remote Alberta.
How does the application process work?
The Reaching Home project strives to simplify the otherwise overwhelming process of applying for funds by making it as flexible as possible to suit and address the community’s needs.
According to Sydney, funds have supported innovative community driven solutions ranging from short-term immediate support to longer-term housing projects. As part of our organization’s commitment to reconciliation, the Reaching Home team has also been focusing on ways to ensure the application is more accessible to Indigenous communities and organizations.
Working alongside RDN’s Indigenous Liaison, Emele Neufeld and informed by feedback gathered from Indigenous partners and projects, the Reaching Home team revised the application process in 2022. The goal was to reduce barriers for Indigenous communities interested in applying for and accessing Reaching Home funding through offering culturally appropriate application and reporting methods and respecting Indigenous peoples’ oral traditions." Recognizing that this is an important first step, the team acknowledges there is more work to be done and is committed to working towards decolonizing their approach to administering funding.
After applications have been submitted by rural, remote and Indigenous communities and organizations in Alberta, Sydney and her team present projects to the Regional Advisory Board, who are responsible for making decisions related to the funding.
“There are currently nine members on the board representing various rural, remote and Indigenous communities and positions in the housing & homelessness sector who bring their expertise to the table and are tasked with the difficult decisions on which projects receive funding,” Sydney explained.
Sydney also reiterated that even if a community is not successful with their application, her team’s intentions are to provide feedback to assist with future applications and offer to work with the community to support them with coordinating responses to homelessness, accessing alternative funding and connecting them to relevant resources. Recognizing that homelessness is a shared responsibility, Sydney and her team are consistently advocating for increased funding at various government levels to support the growing need to respond to rural homelessness.
Top 5 types of projects Reaching Home has funded to date
The Reaching Home team encourages applicants to be as creative as needed to address homelessness in their community. So far the top five projects that have been funded include the following:
In 2022-2023, Reaching Home Supported
Applications are now open for 2024-2026!