Calgary Herald, Op-Ed, April 15, 2022 (Link to article)
Opinion piece co-written by Heather Morley, Executive Director of Inn from the Cold family emergency shelter, Bernadette Majdell, CEO of affordable housing provider HomeSpace
Calgary families are feeling the pinch
The cost of food, the cost of gas, and the cost utilities is rising which means parents facing poverty are being forced to make impossible choices between shelter, heat, and regular meals. At family emergency shelter Inn from the Cold we have seen a sharp increase in demand. In the first three months of last year about 10 families spent nights in shelter, in the first three months of 2022 demand has nearly doubled. An average of 17 families per day are staying with us and our shelter and support programs are bursting at the seams.
Homelessness has long-term effects on a child. Children that experience homelessness face barriers to developmental, social and academic opportunities, and are significantly more likely to experience homelessness in adulthood. With our shelters running over capacity, demand outweighs supply of local resources.
Calgary is falling behind
Here in Alberta the need for affordable housing is especially critical because of our lacklustre investment in the sector. The provincial austerity budget isn’t adequate to maintain our aged affordable housing stock, let alone address the growing need. The recent federal “Housing Budget” will funnel $1.5 billion towards affordable housing projects across the country and if the provincial government doesn’t match that investment it’s our families that live with the consequences.
Local non-profits like HomeSpace are taking on bigger more ambitious projects – like converting a downtown Calgary office tower into affordable housing. Ten floors of long vacant office space are being transformed into new Inn from the Cold headquarters including emergency shelter, 82 units of affordable housing, childcare, and wrap around supports for families – but that barely scratches the surface. Calgary is building about 300 new units of affordable housing per year, while demand grows by about 2000 units. With only 25% of existing units being large enough for family living.
The economic argument
In a 2016 study, over 44 thousand Calgary families were using more than 50% of their income on shelter, that was 8 years ago… At Inn from the Cold recently, families tell us that about 75% of their monthly expenses are groceries, rent and utilities. That is a thin margin on which to survive and raise a family.
If the thought of kids without a home doesn’t pull on your heart strings perhaps it will pull on your purse strings. Homelessness is expensive. People experiencing homelessness rely heavily on social services like shelter, social programs, policing and healthcare. An individual experiencing homelessness costs these systems more in public tax dollars than a person in subsidized affordable housing. Whether you’re thinking with your heart or with your wallet affordable housing needs to be a priority if we truly value families and children in Calgary.
You can help
Creating affordable housing is a community effort, and we need the support of government, the private sector, and community working in harmony. Here are a few things you can do to help:
Voice your support! Contact your elected officials and push for affordable housing in your area. The next time affordable housing is proposed in your neighborhood champion the cause. The same goes for high density zoning changes. Nimbyism is one of the biggest challenges housing providers face. When no one wants affordable housing buildings in their proverbial “backyard” it pushes those parents and their children into potentially unsafe living situations, or unfortunately, into shelters.
Consider volunteering for your local shelter or social serving agencies. Serve meals, collect donations or help a child experiencing homelessness with their homework.
Albertans have a rich culture of philanthropy, as demonstrated by the generous corporate support for our downtown project. Consider holding a fundraiser to contribute to one of many shelters or affordable housing campaigns. Families with safe, stable homes fosters thriving community.