How the Plan to End Homelessness is failing children.

Launched in 2008, Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness focused on providing housing to stop the year over year growth the city had been experiencing in homelessness since 1992 when the first Homeless Point-in-Time Count was held.

Since 2008, almost 10,000 people have been housed with approximately 80% of those retaining their housing or experiencing a successful exit from homelessness.

The majority were adults, not children.

The Plan focused on adult single homelessness. Initially on the high acuity, high chronicity individuals who needed wrap-around intensive supports in housing. As the architects of the Plan began to realize that there were a large number of low-acuity but chronically homelessness individuals trapped in shelter, they shifted to housing for that demographic.

There was no plan for children and families.

Still isn’t.

And that’s who the Plan has failed. The children.

On Friday, I had to meet with the shelter management team of the family emergency shelter where I work to talk about what actions we could take over the long weekend to create safety for everyone. Staff and families.

With over 40 families in a shelter designed to accommodate 27, and no staff available over the long weekend to be able to open our satellite emergency shelter, we had to do something.

We went through the list of families. Talked about ideas, who we could call, what programs we might be able to access to find relief, at least for the weekend.

I called the domestic violence shelters. They were full.

We called everyone we could think of, asking for help. For ideas on how we could weather this long weekend and provide the families we’re sheltering, and our staff, safety. There was no help.

Desperate for solutions, we had to tell the single pregnant moms unaccompanied by children, and the couples who were pregnant but without children, that they had to leave. They could go to the single adult shelters who have room, their numbers are down. Not ideal, particularly when you’re pregnant, but we had to create safety for the children.

We had to tell the single pregnant mom without accompanying children who called that we had no room. She would have to find an alternative.

It was extremely hard on staff. As one staff told me, I can’t recall a time when we’ve ever sent families away.

But they understood. We had to keep the children safe. Over-crowding, particularly with families already in crisis, is not good for anyone.

The recent Point-in-Time Count of Homelessness showed a continued steady decline in adult single homelessness.

Family homelessness, they found, wasn’t growing.

It isn’t falling either, and, while on April 11th, when the Count was conducted there were only 27 families in the shelter, it has steadily been climbing since May to reach a recent high of 44 families, or a total of 155 individuals, in shelter.  We are doing more with less, and it is the children who will suffer.

Where is the Plan to end child and family homelessness?

Where is the focus on the children who will one day grow up to be adults? Without interventions now, without addressing the trauma and toxic stress they are facing in their everyday young lives, the research is clear. They are more likely to grow up to become homeless.

It was a tough day Friday. I am acting ED and Director Programs. As I told the staff when we met, I trust your decisions. First and foremost, we must create safety for the children.


Please Note:  These are my personal reflections, opinions and questions. They are not a statement of the agency for whom I work.

Perhaps some of my frustration, and fear, comes from the call I received late Friday night. A single mother with a 3-year old child seeking shelter. She phoned the media line posted on our website and got me. I have nowhere to go, she said. Can I come there?

I gave her the phone number of the main shelter. I didn’t have the heart to tell her we were full. I’m sure the staff won’t either because no matter what, they will always find room for the children.


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9 thoughts on “How the Plan to End Homelessness is failing children.

  1. LG … when those high-minded folks who set the goal of ‘ending homelessness’ were setting goals, they might have been better to have set one of ‘ending hopelessness’. Despite your disclaimer at the end, I expect you post will cause discomfort for those in high places whose reaction will more likely be to try silencing you rather than fixing things. And those who didn’t answer their phone or return calls aren’t much better. Rather than homelessness, homes. Rather than helplessness, help. Rather than bureaucracy, empathy. Rather than closed doors, open ones. Homelessness, like hunger and disease and poverty, cannot be solved simply by talking about them or writing about them – too bad too many people think the talking is the solution. Actions are what matter. If it is money, lets give more. If it’s policy, lets change it. If it’s people, lets change them …

    Some problems never end, but that doesn’t mean we get anywhere by ignoring them.

    Keep shining your big light on those things that hide in the corners and in the dark – because most of us never see them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Mark. It’s such a complex landscape and can be challenging to navigate — for the children and families experiencing homelessness and for the agencies at the frontline. I think it’s important to remind ourselves that everyone is doing the best they can with the resources they have — which are often too little. At the frontlines, the crisis is real — children crying, mother’s fearful, father’s angry. The shelter is awash in the emotions of human beings in crisis. Did you know that since the Plan was launched in 2008, not one piece of policy has changed? RAther stunning I think.


    • We are very fortunate in Calgary Ana in that we have enough shelter space for whomever needs it — in the adult single world. In family homelessness it’s much more challenging. I truly dislike the sight of those long lines. So sad. ❤


      • Being in one can be a test of hardship even for a healthy person, which many homeless are not. I know I wasn’t well enough to do it here.

        I don’t know whether you have yet there the ring of predators which surrounds every relief organization, waiting to follow single women out again.

        Probably, this being America, you don’t have the incidence rate we have of abuse in shelter by the workers themselves.

        Here, the Salvation Army requires you to be in your bunk by 9 and not to leave it again until breakfast call, no exceptions.

        All told, in two years on the street I did not spend even one whole night in a shelter.


  2. Your blog brought to light the harsh reality for those trying to secure a safe place and how high rejection rates are for those trying to find shelter – something that is not normally publicsed,​ in particular with a focus on the wellbeing of childre​​n. I think Calgary’s efforts should be commended as 80% retention is a fantastic statistic of gaining residential independence.


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