Calgary homeless population still 'living on the edge' despite drop in numbers, shelter director says
Overnight stays at the Drop-In Centre are down but use of its services is up
New research from the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy suggests the city's ten-year plan to address homelessness might be working.
The study tracked the number of stays in emergency shelters since Calgary embarked upon its plan in 2008. According to their data, emergency shelter stays — measured as a percentage of Calgary's adult population — has fallen by nearly 40 per cent.
Diana Krecsy, president of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, says the reason for the drop can be attributed to more people with long-term needs being able to find affordable housing.
"Our number is going down, our effectiveness in helping people with supports and getting people into housing with Housing First is working," she said.
"We're getting more in tune with who the people are and what we need to stop it from happening."
However, Krecsy says about 3,000 more affordable housing units are still needed in Calgary.
'They are living on the edge'
Debbie Newman, executive director of the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre, said there are fewer people sleeping at the shelter than there were a decade ago, but more people are seeking services and meals.
"I think it's important to tell the whole story," Newman said "Yes, it's great that we are seeing a reduction in shelter services. But on the other hand, we have many people that have not gotten the service that [they] need."
Newman said about 800 people bed down at the Drop-In Centre every night, but that number can reach over 900 when the weather worsens.
1.2 million meals were served at the Drop-In Centre last year and Newman said many people who use its counseling and employment services are struggling to make ends meet.
"They are living on the edge," she said. "They are just one step away from entering into homelessness, and that's a big issue."
Newman said helping the homeless and at-risk population with mental health issues and addictions counseling are critical steps towards keeping people from needing to enter the shelter system in the first place.
The Drop-In Centre owns two apartment buildings to give at-risk Calgarians transition to independent living.
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With files from Kate Adach