Homelessness in St. Albert

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The St. Albert Community Coalition to Prevent Homelessness (formerly Temporary Residential Services Committee) has recently completed a two-year research project analyzing homelessness in our community. Led by Kathy Barnhart, project consultant for the committee, this project was funded through an Alberta Rural Development Network grant, and Dr. Solina Richter, professor and academic director of the Global Nursing Office at the University of Alberta advised on the project.

The research concluded that 77 per cent of respondents see homelessness as a problem in our community and agree that homelessness looks different in St. Albert as compared to a larger urban centre.

Feedback regarding the causes of homelessness indicated it was seen as complex and the reasons for homelessness in St. Albert were similar to the reasons found elsewhere.

Family breakdown, substance abuse, mental health issues, domestic/family violence, job loss and eviction are examples of some of the issues that have lead to families to be faced with homelessness.

Gaps in services such as no local emergency/transitional housing available in St. Albert is especially challenging when families face sudden conflicts and/or evictions. In addition, there is a lack of appropriate (affordable, barrier-free and safe) housing for people who are experiencing complex physical, social and emotional needs.

Rental supplements, for those wishing to remain in St. Albert, are very limited.

The Coalition has taken on the challenge of developing the preventative strategy that is outlined in the City of St. Albert Social Masterplan that states, “St. Albert is a community where all residents have a place to live.”

The Coalition strongly supports a “housing first” approach to ending homelessness. However, funding is an issue that needs to be addressed as currently only the seven largest cities in the province receive stable government funding for administration of housing programs.

With the research project complete, the Coalition has established four strategic outcomes:

• Formalize a collaborative entity (the Coalition) with the capacity to lead initiatives and prevent homelessness in St. Albert over the next five years.

• For the community, increase its knowledge and understanding homelessness, its impacts, experiences, causes and possible solutions.

• Using a housing first approach, develop a “wrap-around” service to support adults, youth, families and seniors at risk of homelessness.

• Advocate provincially for social policy and program changes to address the inability of residents on low income to access affordable and appropriate housing in their communities.

The cost of homelessness is significant. Homelessness costs more than modest housing when the social and health costs are considered. These increased costs are associated with providing long-term physical and mental health care as well as the essentials of food, clothing and temporary shelter.

The personal, social and emotional costs are much greater than the material and/or operating costs of housing. The impact of homelessness is significant and far-reaching. Lack of stable, appropriate housing negatively affects the mental, physical and spiritual health of individuals. It also negatively affects employability.

For further information regarding the Coalition please contact Suzan at safb@telus.net

Suzan Krecsy is the director of the St. Albert Food Bank.

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