Tag Archives: 10 year plan to end homelessness

Can we end homelessness?

In January, 2008, I sat in a room with a few hundred other Calgarians, most of them involved in some way in the homeless-serving sector, and applauded the launch of Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness.

When asked, “Do you think we can do it?” my answer was  always, “It would be great if we could.” When pressed, I’d temper my enthusiasm with words of caution. “What do we mean when we say we will end it? Do we mean people will never pan handle again? Or fall on hard times with no place to go? Or not need emergency support?

If ending homelessness meant that, the answer was no.

But did I believe in the vision? Absolutely.

It is big and hairy and audacious, and it is vital to hold ourselves accountable to a vision like that if we are to make a difference, if we are to ensure people don’t get trapped in homelessness for years.

“Jack”* was in his late 40s the first time he stepped across the threshold of a shelter. He only stayed a few days before he sorted out the problem that lead him there. Before that, he’d done everything he could to avoid the shelter doors. He’d found a roommate to avoid Calgary’s high rents. When the room mate situation didn’t work out, he’d stayed with friends and when he ran out of friends, he spent a few nights sleeping in a park. He didn’t like that very much so eventually, believing himself to have run out of options, he landed at the shelter door.

The first time was hard. He was scared. Worried about what it meant to have fallen so far down he had no other recourse but to enter the shelter.

The second time, a couple of years later, was easier and by the third time he stayed at the shelter, he had filtered through enough of his fears and reframed the experience to mean, he wasn’t ‘a loser’, which is what he’d told himself the first time. He was simply using the resources available. And anyway, the folks at the shelter were nice and as long as he kept to himself, nobody bothered him. He was still determined to not stay there for long. He was still committed to getting out as soon as he could.

And then, the housing market went crazy. Afford his own place? Not going to happen.

What he thought would be just a few week’s stay became months. Months eased into years and suddenly, without his even noticing, Jack found himself permanently entrenched at the shelter.

“It became comfortable,” he told me once when I worked at the shelter. “Nine years go by pretty fast if you’re not watching.”

I ran into Jack not long ago. I was walking west. He was walking east. When he saw me he stopped to say hello and give me a hug. “I missed you when you left,” he told me.

We chatted for a few moments before I asked him where he was living now. “Are you still at the shelter?” I asked him.

“Nope,” he replied. “I got a place.” And he smiled and stood taller, straighter, prouder.

When Jack turned 65 and his old age benefits started to come in, he decided it was time to make a change. With the help of a senior’s housing agency he found subsidized housing he could afford. He’d been living on his own for a year when I ran into him on the street and was determined he was never going back.

“It used to be I’d work temp jobs, get some cash and blow it all on weekends,” he told me. “Even though I had the same amount of money then as I have now, I didn’t have a lot of hope I’d ever get out of that place ’cause I couldn’t see how I was going to afford it.”

For Jack, as for so many, Calgary’s high cost of living keeps them trapped in believing there is no alternative, there is no place for them to call home other than a shelter. As one man I know once said, “I’ve got a roof over my head and food on the table. I can’t complain about sharing my place with a few hundred other roommates. I can afford free.”

It wasn’t until Jack ‘aged out’ that a path to stability and independence appeared.

We can do better. We must.

Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness is about ensuring people don’t get trapped in using shelter as a long term solution to their housing needs. It’s about ensuring Calgary has the system of care, the necessary affordable housing, and the right supports to ensure homelessness does not become a trap from which the only escape is to age out or die.

We will not be able to open the doors to home without a vision that says, “Yes. Together, we will end homelessness.”

Eight years ago I sat in a room filled with hope and possibility and a belief that together, we can make a difference.

A lot has changed since that day. We’ve learned a great deal. Acquired more information and data to base our decisions upon. We’ve filled in gaps, streamlined processes and gained a better understanding of what it means to be homeless, what it means to end it, and what it takes to do it.

One thing hasn’t changed. My belief that it is vital that each of us hold space for the vision of ending homelessness. Each of us believe in our capacity to make happen.

For Jack’s sake, and for thousands of others, we must.

***************

*Not his real name.

 

 

Moving past our buts to possibilities — ending homelessness

We are five days away from the Great Big Summit and there is still lots to do.

And it’s getting done.

Yesterday, after one final read through the Plan by a team-member, we pressed send and shipped it off to the designer to tighten up the layout.

I went through my list.

Agenda. Done. Except for tightening up the wording on the last item.

Speakers. Confirmed.

Speaker notes. Sent.

Key Messages. Drafted.

Q&A. Drafted.

Keynote Speaker. Organized.

At a Glance. In review, ready for print tomorrow.

Posters. Order today.

Attendee packages. Final copy ready for printing.

Website. Design approved. Ready for final copy today and tomorrow.

Video. Final shoots today. Edit over weekend.

And the list goes on.

In one month, we have managed to pull together the pieces of what we hope to be an inspiring event on Tuesday. An event that will galvanize community around the vision of ending homelessness, and spark collective impact in getting the job done.

Together we are stronger.

Last night, just before leaving the office, I stepped into the CEOs office to check on the change I’d made on the agenda. “I don’t think I’ve quite got the wording right,” I told her.

She looked at what I’d written and replied, “Hmmm. Let me think on it tonight. Maybe something will come to me.”

“Thanks. I just can’t quite hit on how to phrase this one,” I replied.

And she laughed and said, “Good thing is, you don’t have to do it alone.”

I let my need to find the perfect turn of phrase go.

I’m part of a team.

That’s the beauty of collaboration. Cooperation. Community.

Ending homelessness is a shared vision. It improves the lives of everyone. Not just those living beneath its burdens, but all of us in community.

The other day I received an email from a property manager asking how to deal with ‘vagrants’ hanging around a strip mall they’ve just taken over managing.

In my email response, I did not use the word vagrant and chose instead to educate with words that described homelessness as a societal condition affecting human beings. I also gave her the telephone number of the police district office and suggested she speak with the Community Resource Officer.

I could do that because I know I am not alone.

Ending homelessness is a collective responsibility.

It takes all of us.

Here in Calgary, our police service has taken a proactive approach to working with communities to help mitigate the impact of those who struggle with homelessness in their community and those living with the experience of homelessness in their communities. They don’t take an us versus them perspective. They work inclusively with agencies, communities, businesses, faith groups and individuals to find mutually supportive solutions.

Sure, as I write that someone is bound to say, “Yes but…”

And then rhyme off an incident they witnessed where maybe, compassion and inclusivity were not the key operational terms of reference.

Maybe.

But the fact is, just as I am not alone, and the CHF is not alone in ending homelessness, and the person experiencing it is not alone in ending homelessness, neither is the police service. They too rely on each of us, on businesses, individual citizens, communities, everyone to do their part.

And part of what we  all need to do is recognize our role as a collective. There is power in our shared vision of ensuring homelessness does not continue to destroy lives and undermine community. As long as we get our ‘buts’ out of its possibilities, we can do it.

There are many possibilities in ending homelessness.

The question isn’t ‘Can we?’ The questions is “What can I do?”

The possibilities are limitless when we share in the power of our collective impact and move beyond the reasons why we can’t.

We’re launching the update to the Plan to End Homelessness on Tuesday.

It’s not CHF’s Plan. It’s not my Plan or her Plan or his. It’s ours.

You can play a role. Come to the Great Big Summit on Tuesday and find out what you can do to make a difference.

Everyone is invited. There’s no cost to attend. But there is one if you don’t. And that is the one that costs the most. Your voice will not be part of the agenda. Your difference will not be felt. And we will not have the same collective impact without you.