1-stop hub aims to help families facing homelessness in Calgary

Beginning in August, a family-sector hub will operate from a central location in the downtown core, providing vulnerable families with a single stop to access services and explore alternatives before homelessness hits.

Several social agencies to offer services from central location in downtown core

Louise Gallagher, communications director at Inn From the Cold, says families facing homelessness have different needs than individuals. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

A number of social agencies in Calgary are banding together to better serve families facing homelessness. 

Beginning in August, a family-sector hub will operate from a central location in the downtown core, providing vulnerable families with a single stop to access services and explore alternatives before homelessness hits.

The initiative is being spearheaded by several agencies, including Inn from the Cold, Aspen Family and Community Network Society, Children's Cottage, Center for Newcomers, Elizabeth Fry Society, and Sonshine Community Services.

Louise Gallagher, the director of communications and stakeholder relations at Inn From the Cold, says they have been seeing unprecedented numbers of families accessing their services in recent months.

Normally Inn From the Cold can house 27 families a night, but they regularly go way beyond capacity, said Gallagher.

"In May it started to climb, and now we're over 40 families a night, which is unprecedented," she said.

Officials haven't pinpointed a reason for the increase, but Gallagher says it could have to do with the time of year.

Amanda St. Laurent, director of programs at Inn From the Cold, says the number of clients they service is going up, but the available resources aren't. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

"Summertime is that time when families are more likely to move. We can't really say for sure. But that could be one of [the reasons]," she said.

"I think some of it is that families are looking to come to the city to build a new life. School starts in the fall. Summer is the time when it's easier in certain ways to uproot your children, bring them to a new location. And then get ready to be able to get them in to school."

Shelter officials say about 60 per cent of families currently staying there are Indigenous, and around 20 to 25 per cent are new Canadians, immigrants or refugees.

But those proportions have remained the same as the total number of families has increased.

The new family-sector hub will move in upstairs from SORCe (Safe Communities Opportunity and Resource Centre) at 316 Seventh Avenue S.E., next to the downtown library on the north side of the City Hall C-Train platform.

Amanda St. Laurent, director of programs at Inn From the Cold, says it's a tough situation.

"I mean, the numbers are increasing but our capacity and our resources aren't," she said.

Building support networks for families is one way of getting ahead of the problem, said St. Laurent.

"Places they can go, phone numbers they can call, resources they can reach out to before they actually hit that point," she said.

"Those resources do exist. I just think that it's not necessarily common knowledge yet. And part of what we're trying to create with this hub is just a collaboration of agencies that is just really focused on prevention. Because that is the best thing we can do … get people out of shelter and housed as quickly as possible."

Different needs for families

Families experiencing homelessness also have very different needs than individuals, said Gallagher.

"In child and family homelessness, you've got the individuals, and then you've got the family unit. And you have to be able to address the needs and concerns of that family unit," she said.

"So you're not looking for just ... one single room, you need the appropriate housing. And that housing has to be in areas where it's close to schools, it's close to transportation, that you can find the amenities you need."

With files from Anis Heydari