Recently I was in Alberta visiting family and learned a great piece of news about a mid-sized southern Alberta city.
Medicine Hat is on track to become the first city in Canada to eliminate chronic homelessness in early 2015.
This is news that needs to be shared widely not only because it is an excellent example of a city that set a goal and reached it – but because it shows the goal of ending homelessness is achievable.
Even Medicine Hat’s mayor says he was surprised the city of just over 60,000 could accomplish the task – but in a recent news article in the Calgary Herald he said it can be done when the community and agencies work together.
Medicine Hat created a 5-year plan to end homelessness based on the housing first principle. Rather than extending the deadline as often happens after large political announcements, the city worked hard and is on track to meet its deadline.
In 2008 to 2009 1,147 people used emergency shelters in Medicine Hat. Since then, the city has seen a 40% drop in shelter use. Not only that, but the top 40 shelter users have been found permanent housing. Also, 509 adults and 256 children have been housed since 2009 in Medicine Hat and more affordable housing is in the works.
The road has not been without obstacles. Some challenges faced since 2009 include rising rents from an influx of workers to Alberta, a lack of new affordable housing and low vacancy rates. The 2013 flood didn’t help either.
Still, despite all of this, Medicine Hat will reach its goal of reducing the average length of stay in shelters to just 10 days.
The success is credited to a community effort involving private landlords and property managers, all levels of government and local citizens.
What I find particularly heartening in this story is the apparent turn around in the way the city’s mayor thinks about homelessness. He is quoted as saying he was a skeptic of the program initially but became a champion when he saw that it does in fact make fiscal sense to address homelessness in this way.
I have said many times in this column that it costs less money to ensure people have adequate housing and support than to deal with health and legal issues arising as a consequence of homelessness.
Medicine Hat’s mayor confirmed this saying that even as a fiscal conservative in what he described as an ‘old school’ sense, he came to realize that sometimes it works best when we help people into a position to help themselves.
Medicine Hat can serve as a great example of a Canadian city that has been able to effectively address homelessness with great results. I hope our own city can use this as a practical example and follow in their footsteps.