Hicks on Biz: Plan to End Homelessness a Success BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: FRIDAY, MARCH 31, 2017
Whichever way you look at it – financial, moral, compassionate – the city-led, mostly provincially funded 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness launched by then-Mayor Steve Mandel in 2009 has been a success.
You can look at numbers until your brain is spinning, but a few big ones stand out.
Since 2009, Homeward Trust – the umbrella organization coordinating housing and social programs in Edmonton for the homeless – says 6,000 formerly homeless individuals have been housed.
Two-thirds of those helped were considered to be chronically without shelter.
The annual 2016 Homeless Count – the best measurement available – was 1,752 people. The 2014 count was about 2,170. The count in 2008 was about 2,500. Had no action been taken, the 2009 report suggests the homeless count could have jumped to 8,500 by 2018.
Many tax dollars have been spent on this effort. Homeward Trust’s 2015 budget was $44.6 million for building new housing units, rent subsidies and social programs.
While difficult to quantify, housing the homeless is a rather obvious and excellent use of tax dollars.
On compassionate grounds alone, 6,000 people who’d otherwise be in dire circumstances are now living with dignity in warm, clean apartments or homes. Their individual problems are being treated, thanks to professional and volunteer assistance.
One reassuring statistic: Of those housed since 2009, 80% remained housed 12 months later. In other words, decent housing and assistance has helped them to stay off the streets.
I began my research with a business frame-of-mind. On the savings side of the ledger, I wanted to know the actual, measurable police, ambulance and hospital savings that have accompanied this reduction in the actual number of Edmontonians living on the street.
When the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness was launched in 2009, various estimates of not doing anything ran from $50,000 to $100,000 per homeless individual per year, based on ambulance use, police calls and hospital stays.
Nailing down actual savings to the Edmonton Police Service and the health system, I have concluded, is near impossible to determine. There are too many variables.
But an old axiom of social assistance still holds true. Spending never actually drops, because, with improvements, the standard of care (and hence expense) rises. What’s saved is re-directed to other social-net weaknesses, such as better care for the mentally ill, specialized seniors’ housing, etc.
Homeward Trust itself has moved on to a deeper level of ending homelessness, with programs addressing the needs of families, teens and indigenous people.
The original 10-Year Plan To End-Homelessness wisely made no projection of societal savings, other than a cautious statement that the total cost of additional social housing and expanded social services would be “slightly less” than the cost of maintaining the status quo.
Many will argue the measures taken to end homeless in Edmonton are not enough, that the current waiting list for housing and support services shouldn’t be at 1,190 individuals (down from 1,603 a year ago) but should be negligible by now, eight years into the 10 year plan.
I would answer, given the complexity of the issue, that this housing effort has worked very, very well.
Every single individual helped has a unique set of emotional, mental and physical circumstances to be addressed. Getting landlords on board is a Herculean effort. Actually building new social housing involves countless committees and numerous bureaucracies before a shovel turns.
The fact that the initiative is alive and well, actually stronger than ever, speaks to its success.
Would that governments treat supportive housing not as a want, but as a basic need - as embedded in the budget process as education and health care.
As Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson pointed out, the latest federal promise (if kept) of $1.1 billion a year over 10 years towards affordable and social housing across Canada, is important.
Past provincial governments have been erratic, from year to year, in supporting “non-market housing”. The current Alberta government, from its Seniors and Housing Ministry’s five-year business plan, appears prepared to provide a steady stream of decent funding for supportive housing.
May future governments be so resolved.
Well-planned and well-executed supportive housing programs serve us all.