Shelter is one of the most basic human needs, and the majority of people have that need fulfilled to varying degrees, ranging from modest apartments to palatial mansions.
Then there are those who have no home at all, save for a park bench, a cardboard box in an alley or, if they’re lucky, a bed at an emergency shelter or a friend’s couch.
Homelessness isn’t just a big-city problem; it happens here in small rural areas as well.
Although official counts haven’t been made in Vauxhall, last week Lethbridge, with the aid of about 150 volunteers, participated in the 2016 Alberta Point-in-Time Count, which tracks homelessness numbers in the Alberta communities that make up the 7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness. The numbers will be released with the final report to the province in spring 2017.
Based on figures from previous counts, homelessness in the seven Alberta cities has decreased by about 15 per cent since 2008. That’s good news.
The bad news is there are still people who have no home. The 2014 Point-in-Time Count identified 6,663 people who were homeless, with the vast majority of those, 5,862, in the two major urban centres, Calgary and Edmonton.
But even in Lethbridge, the 2014 count showed that there were 140 individuals who were homeless. The Lethbridge shelter has room for a little over 100 people not enough to provide a place for everyone who needs it.
There are two ways to deal with the problem. You can add more shelter space or you can reduce the homeless numbers by providing affordable housing for those in need.
The city, through efforts spearheaded by Social Housing in Action, has been working on the latter solution, and the numbers indicate progress is being made.
SHIA’s 2015-16 report on its “Bringing Lethbridge Home” initiative says, “Since the inception of the Provincial 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness in 2009, provincially funded Housing First programs in Lethbridge have housed over 734 participants.”
Those are people who might have been added to the city’s homeless numbers were it not for these efforts.
Of course, there’s still work to be done and it will likely be ongoing. That’s because it’s a complex problem that is part of an even bigger issue, which is that many people in Canadian society are struggling financially. The increase in food bank usage is testament to that fact.
The roots of homelessness are deep. A news release accompanying Wednesday’s release of the report “State of Homelessness in Canada 2016” noted, “Modern mass homeless in Canada is primarily the result of shrinking federal investment in housing beginning in the 1980s.”
A problem that is 30-some years in the making won’t be solved overnight, but let’s hope there is sufficient political will to support the efforts to help people find the permanent shelter they need.