University of Calgary

Homeless crisis

Jan. 28, 2009

A promising plan to end Calgary’s homeless crisis

Are homeless youth the “farm team” of homeless adults? Deb Welliver, vice-president at Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF), believes this is a possibility

In her role with the CHF, Welliver is working diligently on the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. The plan will be presented at a conference hosted by the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary, Growing Home: Housing and Homelessness in Canada, which runs from Feb. 18-20. Given the state of homelessness in Calgary, and nationally; and being in the midst of the global economic crisis, the conference’s timing couldn’t be better.

The 10 Year Plan may seem like a dream to some, but versions of it have been implemented with great success in Chicago, Portland and Michigan. With a “housing first” policy, the plan first offers clients housing, and then appropriate support services. The long term goal is to create 11,250 affordable housing units, to help homeless Calgarians toward independence and employment, and to change policies so that housing becomes a right.

In order for prevention services to succeed, Welliver and other experts believe they must be offered to people up to 25 years old. She says, “The worst thing social services can do is take a child in, give them support and services, only to wish them well and discharge them into poverty and homelessness at 18.”

She makes the point that most youth who grow up in functional homes do not succeed the first time, often using home as a safe place to fall. “If so-called ‘normal’ kids can’t even make it on the first try, why are we assuming that children who were once street kids will have an easy time with it?” she wonders.

Of the 10 Year Plan, social work professor Christine Walsh says, “Homeless people are a diverse group with many needs. Since the plan intends to tailor preventative efforts to suit each individual, some symptoms or issues may even clear up, or at least shrink down, once these people are housed.”

The 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness is one of many topics at the Growing Home: Housing and Homelessness in Canada conference. To register for Growing Home, visit nhc2009.ca.