Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
What is it like to be a homeless child in Calgary?
A boy, age 11: “People...look at you like you’re nothing but a dirty lowlife homeless person, like they’re above you. But I ain’t like that. I keep clean, I shower and wear clean clothes. I may be homeless but I’m not a BUM.”
A girl, age 11: “You can’t enjoy your room, your own stuff, your own pets.”
A boy, age 8: “It feels like you’re in hell and you are dirty.”
The Committee responsible for developing Calgary Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness adopted a pastoral methodology of:
- being present with and listening to the experiences of the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed;
- developing a critical analysis of the economic, political, and social structures that cause human suffering;
- making judgments in the light of principles based on human dignity, responsible stewardship, and the common good;
- stimulating creative thought and action regrading alternate visions and models for social and economic development; and
- acting in solidarity with popular groups in their struggles to transform economic, political, and social structures that cause social and economic injustices.
Without attempting to cover every segment of the homeless population, consider the life situation and challenges faced by people in the following three groups:
Perhaps no single sector of Calgary’s homeless population faces more danger and gaps in support services than women who are homeless. Homeless women consistently face the threat of being robbed, attacked or sexually assaulted on the streets, in addition to facing the challenges of homelessness itself. In Calgary, most homeless women are forced to seek assistance in shelters with men, in service systems geared specifically to the male gender.
Approximately 95% of women who are going to shelters are doing so to escape from abuse. These abused women are left with few choices of where to go and what to do, because most do not have any title or claim to their previous residence or may be too afraid to report or even approach their abuser.
Consequently, many women who lack options turn to the sex trade to make money and survive, or for some others, to fuel their addictions. Women also become homeless from things such as addictions and mental health problems, but these are less prevalent than abuse and the sex trade.
Soaring rent costs and a lack of affordable housing are two of the key factors that contribute to the reason that families make up 12 percent of the entire homeless population in Calgary, but it isn’t the sole issue. More than half of families that are homeless have single parents with only one source of income. Additionally, half of the families that are identified as being homeless also disclose that one or both parents are dealing with a mental health or addiction problems.
Many families require multiple support services in order to escape from homelessness and need services in place to support their children while parents get the help required to eliminate their barrier to being housed.
While it may be surprising to read, a significant number of seniors make up 13% of Calgary’s homeless population. Rising rental costs and an extreme shortage of affordable housing contributes to this high percentage. Consequently, many seniors are forced to use many of the shelters designed for the regular homeless population, putting them at risk of being victimized by crime, intimidation, or inadequate services to accommodate their health issues.
Seniors deal with additional difficulties in obtaining safe and accessible housing and maintaining it into the future due to a lack of specialized social services supports. Seniors also become homeless due to situations of elder abuse, the onset of Alzheimers, addictions, and mental health problems
Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to end Homelessness is innovative, fiscally responsible, result-oriented, and practical. It seeks not to manage homelessness but to eliminate it. In the short term, the Plan aims to create rapid, visible, and meaningful change by focussing attention on chronic homelessness and prevention. In the longer term, the Plan calls for the creation of 11,250 affordable and specialized housing units over the next decade and proposes major systemic changes to eliminate barriers that currently entrench homelessness.
The guiding philosophy of the Plan is a proven concept called ”Housing First,” which puts the highest priority on moving homeless people into permanent housing with the support necessary to sustain that housing. Key elements of the plan include coordinated intake and assessment, city-wide case management, and a Homeless Management Information System that will bring a more consistent, coordinated approach to Calgary’s homeless serving system.
Ending homelessness will require the engagement of all Calgarians. Partnerships with the many homeless serving agencies, the private sector, the three levels of government, the faith community and foundations, will have to be strengthened where they already exist, and new partnerships forged. Implementing the plan will require not only professional competence, but consciousness-raising and the transformation of stereotypes, and the expression of heartfelt concern to enable our brothers and sisters to experience the richness of their humanity.
To learn more about Calgary’s Plan check out the web site: www.endinghomelessness.ca.
Wishing you all the best, I remain,
Sincerely yours in Christ,
☩ Frederick Henry