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.
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.