For the first time in 20 years the rate of homelessness is dropping in Calgary, according to numbers released on Monday.

The Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) says its 2012 homeless count shows an 11.4 per cent decrease in the number of people experiencing homelessness since 2008.

CHF head Tim Richter credits provincial policies with reversing a trend that routinely saw the number of homeless Calgarians increase 20 or 30 per cent every few years.

"I think the single biggest factor is the government of Alberta’s investment in affordable housing and the support services that you need to really support some people once they get into homes," Richter said.

Combining data from 85 facilities and a physical count on Jan. 18, the foundation enumerated 3,190 people experiencing homelessness, compared with 3,601 people in 2008.

The count matches up with recent provincial data which showed emergency shelter bed use had declined since 2009, a trend that led to the closure of 189 beds by the Salvation Army last year, the CHF said.

Despite the encouraging numbers, several challenges remain, the foundation said.

"To some extent we are fighting an uphill battle in a growing economy: we have people moving to Calgary for work and there is a lack of affordable housing," said Richter.

According to a study published last year by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, 63 per cent of all shelter users in Alberta are in Calgary, compared with 28 per cent in Edmonton.

The research by Ron Kneebone and Herb Emery also found that in 2011 some 9,563 people moved to Calgary from other cities and provinces, while the number of rental units in Calgary declined from 36,174 in 2009 to 34,814.

"Migration is also impacting family homelessness. Early data indicates there are more Aboriginal and immigrant families moving to Calgary in need of housing and support," the foundation said.

A full report on the January homeless count will be available in April 2012, the CHF said. The foundation also plans to conduct a summer homeless count.