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Grande Prairie planning to fund homeless initiatives through 2021

The city is continuing to work towards ending homeless in 2019, but could approve a plan that goes beyond that. Homeless Initiatives Supervisor Katherine Schmidt recently presented the Community Living Committee with their recommendations for the continuation of their program.

Current contracts expire in April and three out of the four current organizations will continue to provide different support pillars to the program. Intake will continue to be run but the YMCA of Northern Alberta, case management will be shared by the Canadian Mental Health Association and HIV North and rapid rehousing will continue to be provided by Centrepoint Facilitation. Schmidt said that current case management provider Accredited Supportive Living Services did not submit a proposal for consideration. The new contracts being recommended to council are for four year terms, a first for the program. Schmidt says this should help to maintain security and stability.

“One of the things we try not to do is have too much upheaval for individuals that are housed and/or coming into the system experiencing homelessness. Often times it’s very difficult when you’ve made a connection with a worker or a housing worker that you’ve been working with for anywhere from up to six months or a year then all of a sudden you’re told not only is your new worker not this person, but it’s a different agency.”

Having one central point for intake helps match the individuals up with the right supports for them. Schmidt says there are varying degrees of homelessness which require different approaches.

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“Someone may have been homeless for, episodically, maybe a couple times in the past year. They may really just need re-connection to resources and the support to get back into a stable housing situation. So rapid re-housing is really that, four to six months worth of support and generally that family is good to go. For someone that’s perhaps been on the streets for five years; chronically homeless, perhaps has complex issues, maybe there’s some addictions and mental health issues. We’re not going to be able to exit someone in four to six months successfully. So, having that year/year and a half worth of support is really making the difference.”

They are working to expanding permanent support programs as well. Currently there are 12 permanent support beds located at Rotary House. Schmidt says one of the biggest barriers is evening supports that haven’t been available.

“So what we’re doing with now looking at permanent supported [programs] with in-house supports and evening supports. Now we’re also looking at a partnership with a private developer that owns an apartment building. If we could have an apartment building with a 24 hour support team in a building then individuals not only receive support during the day but also it’s a wraparound 24 hours.”

Schmidt also noted an increase in “migration homelessness” which has brought a lot of new faces to Grande Prairie. She says people are starting to travel to the region because they hear the job market has improved. She says another part of the “migration homelessness” could be rural residents struggling to keep their homes.

“Often times you get homelessness happening in a small community and they don’t even have a homeless shelter. So, what ends up happening is if you’re out in a city like Peace River or even in our smaller communities and you start not being able to pay your rent and not being able to manage and you end up without a house. It’s pretty natural to migrate into the closest urban centre for supports.”

Schmidt says there has already been some funding from the feds to support rural homeless initiatives and she expects to see more of that in the future. The province is also expected to announce revisions and extensions to their plan to end homelessness by 2019. The expected continuation of that program is where the city expects to get most of the funding from. There is a 48 hour termination agreement written in to the proposed contracts should the province unexpectedly discontinue funding.

The program would cost just over $7.5 million over the four year term. The contracts will go before council for approval when meetings resume later this month and would begin April 1, 2018.

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