In April, when Calgary’s Point-in-Time Count of Homeless was conducted, we were optimistic our numbers were on the decline in concert with the decline in adult single homelessness. This abruptly changed in May when the shelter began to experience increasingly high numbers of families seeking support.
“We started the year off with an average of 30 families in the shelter in January,” says Abe Brown, Executive Director, Inn from the Cold. “By April when the Point-in-Time Homeless Count, the average number of families in shelter declined slightly to 27.5 and then it began to climb.”
In June 2018, we had supported an average of 31 families which as of July 18th, has increased to an average of 36 families per day in the shelter, with a high of 41 one night this month.
Child and family homelessness is distinctly different than single adult homelessness because it impacts all family members both individually and as a family unit. Services and supports must address the needs of both the children and adults as well as the entire family. Not only must the focus be on addressing barriers to housing and sustainability, it must focus on mitigating the stress and trauma of homelessness and its impact on the early childhood brain development.
Our programs and supports are designed to assist families in achieving independence. One of the biggest roadblocks in a family’s pathway back to stability is the lack of affordable and appropriately sized housing. To be sustainable, housing must meet several essential criteria including proximity to schools, easily accessible transportation and community amenities, medical offices and employment training as well as employment opportunities. At the same time, the housing must be able to accommodate families with at least 3 or 4 children and be affordable.
“The average family we support at Inn from the Cold has 3 children,” says Brown. “Calgary’s lack of rental housing of more than 2 bedrooms, combined with the need for affordability for low-income families, makes it challenging for a family of four or five people to find appropriate, sustainable housing. For the shelter, it means that the length of stay is impacted by the number of families in shelter, the size of families and the availability of appropriate housing.”
Length of stay in shelter is a key measurement within the homeless-serving sector. The evidence shows that the longer an individual spends in a crisis environment such as a shelter, the greater the negative impact on resiliency, healthy brain development, and well-being.
We provide both housing and shelter to vulnerable children and families. Currently, we support 60 families in housing through program supports funded through Calgary Homeless Foundation.
Our Emergency Family Shelter has a capacity for 27 families, 20 of which are funded for basic needs through the Province of Alberta. Throughout this year, the shelter has regularly been over capacity and has had to activate its external emergency shelter site for the majority of June and July to accommodate overflow.
“More affordable housing is the answer,” says Brown. “But we’ve got to build smart and build it right. The housing must be in an ideal location, the appropriate size and provide the proper supports to ensure families with long-term patterns of poverty and homelessness are able to build resiliency and achieve independence.”
We are working with members of the family-sector within Calgary’s Homeless-Serving System of Care to develop collaborative solutions that will prevent homelessness and end it for the long-term. In August, the family-sector will begin to provide Diversion and Prevention services from a central location in the downtown core. This family-sector hub will provide vulnerable families with a one-stop shop to access services and explore alternatives before homelessness hits.
“We’re excited about the prospects for the family-sector hub,” says Amanda St. Laurent, Director of Programs at Inn from the Cold, who along with Angela Clarke, Director, Family Portfolio at Aspen Family and Community Network Society, is spearheading the initiative. “As a community, if we can reach families before they become homeless, and provide them with alternatives through one call, or one visit to the family-hub, we will have greater success in preventing and ending child and family homelessness today and into the future.
If you are interested in helping please send us an email at email@example.com. Ending child and family homelessness takes a community response and you have the power to create a better city for many generations to come.