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More homeless people finding stable housing in Grande Prairie

Another 61 formerly homeless people have successfully found a place to live over the past year. That’s how many graduates of Grande Prairie’s Housing First program are being celebrated for 2017/2018.

The housing first philosophy provides access to housing without any preconditions like treatment or sobriety, and being a graduate of the program means they have been able to keep their housing independently. Homeless Initiatives Supervisor Katherine Schmidt explains that’s not always as easy as it sounds.

“If someone’s been homeless for 30 years, we can’t expect them to walk into an apartment next week and automatically expect that to be a success. Their life experiences of being in shelters and being on the streets may include things like not having to cook meals for themselves; that’s a learning experience.”

They may also experience loneliness being in a place on their own, or have trouble finding the right job. Schmidt says it can sometimes take a few years before someone can be considered a graduate of the program, but adds that they have more success with people who have only been homeless episodically.

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When it comes to those residents who have a harder time getting into housing, Schmidt stresses the importance of connecting with them individually and listening to why the Housing First approach doesn’t work for them. A new group called “Voice for the Voiceless” is trying to help with that.

“They’re coming together with lived experience to share some of their experiences and also to put forward suggestions and to advocate for change,” Schmidt explains.

The group has grown to more than 20 members who all have experienced homelessness and meet weekly. They recently travelled to Red Deer to speak at the 7 Cities Conference on Ending Homelessness.

The city moved 94 people into the Housing First program in the last year, but Schmidt says whether they graduate isn’t the only marker of success. She also points to a 56 per cent reduction in their use of Emergency Medical Services, a 63 per cent drop in Emergency Room visits, and a 71 per cent decrease in police interaction after six months in housing as saving costs.

“This year this individual may be housed, may still be struggling, and may still be going through an eviction process and we’re going to re-house him or her, but where the success may be is that this person while they were housed were connected to a doctor and now aren’t using the emergency room.”

Schmidt understands that it would be impossible to aim for no one to ever be homeless again. However, she says the goal of the 2015-2019 plan is to have systems in place to prevent new people from becoming homeless and to help anyone who falls into homelessness get connected to the appropriate housing within three weeks.

“In Grande Prairie right now we’re doing a great job with individuals moving into apartments that have been short-term homeless. Chronically-homeless individuals need a different model of housing; they really need supported housing with on-site supports and a congregate site.”

Addressing that need is one of the goals the city and the Community Advisory Board on Housing and Homelessness are working on.

Grande Prairie residents can learn more about the city’s plan to end homelessness at a presentation on July 6th at the Teresa Sargeant Hall. Starting at 11 a.m. speakers will be sharing their experiences, followed by a community barbecue until 1:30 p.m.

The Year Three Update on the plan can be read online. The results of the most recent Point-in-Time Count on Homelessness are expected to be released soon.

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