Number of homeless families needing beds each night at Calgary shelter leaps by 37%

An agency that helps homeless families in Calgary says it's seeing a disturbing surge in demand so far this year, with the number of families being helped each night soaring by 37 per cent compared to the first quarter of last year.

Inn From the Cold says bed occupancy jumped by 41% in first quarter of this year compared to last

Inn From the Cold executive director Abe Brown says a persistent lack of affordable housing, especially for larger families, is contributing to the increased demand on his agency. (CBC)

An agency that helps homeless families in Calgary says it's seeing a disturbing surge in demand so far this year, with the number of families being helped each night soaring by 37 per cent compared to the first quarter of last year. 

Inn From the Cold, which provides emergency shelter to families in need, announced Tuesday that occupancy of its beds had leapt by 41 per cent for the first quarter of 2018, compared with the same period last year.

The agency has been forced to open its emergency overflow facility at the Knox United Church more than a dozen times so far this year, said executive director Abe Brown

He says about two-hirds of those people were children. There are currently 60 children staying at the shelter.

"Imagine doing your homework at a homeless shelter," he said.

Inn From the Cold's downtown family emergency shelter has room for 27 families. (CBC)

Brown says a major contributing factor in the uptick in demand is a continued lack of affordable housing.

"It continues to be incredibly challenging for larger families to find the right size unit at the right price in that sort of affordable housing range," he said.

Inn From the Cold's family emergency shelter has been at or above capacity 80.6 per cent of the time in the first quarter of 2018 compared with 20 per cent in the same period last year — a 300 per cent increase, the agency said as it kicked off its annual spring fundraising drive, Claire's Campaign.

"Whereas in May last year we were consistently under-capacity throughout the first quarter (on average 21 families per night), this year, we have served an average of 29 families a night, in a building with a 27-family capacity," said programs director Amanda St. Laurent.

Families staying in shelter longer

Along with the increase in the number of children and families needing emergency shelter, the length of stay has increased from 35 days to an average of 40 days.

"Length of stay is a key indicator of our ability to find appropriate, safe and affordable housing for families," said St. Laurent.

"While our goal is always to assist families in moving out of shelter into housing as quickly as possible, we continue to be hampered by lack of access to appropriate-sized housing to meet the needs of larger families — in particular, families with more than two or three children."

In December, Inn from the Cold opened Journey House 2, a 10-unit, three-bedroom apartment building for families with two or more children.

Inn From the Cold describes itself as an agency of last resort for children and families with nowhere else to go. It provides food, shelter and clothing in addition to offering services aimed at helping its clients access such things as medical care and childhood development services.

The Inn receives 30 per cent of its funding from the province and the Calgary Homeless Foundation.

Every May during Claire's Campaign, donations to the Inn are matched one-to-one by the campaign's sponsors: Gary Nissen, who started it in honour of his mother, his sister Karen Zutter, and the Hutchinson family.

This year's goal is $800,000.