There is tragedy, there is hope, in homelessness

On Tuesday evening we held the 20th Anniversary Annual General Meeting for Inn from the Cold, where I work.

It is important to celebrate all the good work that has happened over the past twenty years. It is good to mark the anniversary, yet, it can be hard sometimes to consciously align the good deeds done with the fact, we need an Inn, no matter how sweet, to save children and families from homelessness.

Last week, as we geared up for the AGM, we passed a marker that is tragic in its enormity, yet hopeful in its presence.

Last week, we registered the 70,000th person into the city’s homeless database (HMIS) which has only been up and running for the past five years. The person who became the 70,000th entry was a 7 year old boy who entered the Inn with his mother and family.

It is tragic that it was a child who took our community across the threshold of 70,000 people having experienced homelessness over the past five years. In that same week, just before the 70,000th entry, a one day old baby received their number from the database too.

Sometimes, it is beyond my comprehension how we can  have children experiencing homelessness on our streets.

Sometimes, it boggles my mind that a child needs a number to represent their homelessness.

The tragedy lies in their being homeless. The hope begins in their finding their way home through accessing our services.

It’s about more than the numbers.

Yes, 70,000 is a big number. And yes, a one day old child having a number in a system that tracks homelessness seems, on the surface, to be incomprehensible.

What difference do those numbers make?

The fact we can actually track who is entering the system of care is remarkable. Ten years ago, before Calgary launched its Plan to End Homelessness on January 28, 2018, we had no idea who was accessing the services of the 100+ agencies providing homeless supports in our city. Now we do.

Ten years ago, people went from agency to agency, asking for supports, help, information. They told their story again and again, sometimes adding trauma to an already traumatic journey in the continuous re-telling of the poverty and tragedy in their lives.

Ten years ago, agencies were so busy just serving the people coming to their doors, they didn’t have time to think about a coordinated response. They only had time to figure out their next response; person by person, family by family.

Today, there’s one entry point, a common entry form and a coordinated system that tracks people and the resources they access so that there’s only one telling of their story to put them on their journey to the place where they belong, home.

Today, the homeless-serving system of care is just that — a system. It’s coordinated. Planned. Collaborative. It’s focused on the bigger picture of ending homelessness as a pressing social issue, while taking care of the day to day needs of those whose lives have been impacted by the harsh realities of poverty and homelessness.

Today, we recognize there is a problem and are working together, not just as a city but as a province and a nation, to find solutions that honour the dignity and humanity of everyone and that make real and lasting difference in the lives of vulnerable children, families and individuals, and our communities.

A 7 year old boy and one day old child got a number from HMIS last week.

The hope is — they never ever have to use that number again as they move beyond the trauma of homelessness into the place where they belong, HOME.


To mark our 20th anniversary, we created a video that speaks to the courage of those who first set up Community Inns in Church basements 20 years ago, and to the evolution of hope, dignity, respect and possibility to create the Inn as it is today.

Thank you to the amazing Comms and Event teams at the Inn and Paul Long of Paul Long and Associates for your creative brilliance. Thank you Andrea and the team at Six Degrees Music Studio for sharing your gifts and talents. We invite you to share in our story and to share it with your social networks. Thank you.


7 thoughts on “There is tragedy, there is hope, in homelessness

  1. kudos …. and a query.

    The 70,000th entry of 20 yrs, as you’ve presented it is exaggeration to make your point, is it not? How many people are homeless now vs. how many would have been if Inn from the Cold didn’t exist? That would be a meaningful statistic. 70,000 isn’t a current relevant representation of anything. Not that I don’t think the work is worthy – I do, but it’s a bit like MacDonalds saying, as they used to, how many billions of burgers they’d served. A big number but it never represented ‘the current situation’. Tell us the ‘current situation’, please. Tell it often, tell it without varnish … and it will be powerful, credible and support-evoking. 70,000 is just a number, it evokes admiration but doesn’t convey reality …

    Liked by 1 person

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