New approach to homelessness being drafted

Tyler Clarke
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A new approach to tackling homelessness was put up for consideration during a working meeting with dozens of community stewards on Wednesday.


Prior to a series of brainstorming and fact-finding efforts, Riverbank Development Corporation manager Brain Howell explained the ins and outs of Housing First.

“It’s based on the principle that access to housing should not be contingent on readiness or compliance, but is a basic human right,” he said.

“If they’re looking for a place to live, that should be provided to them, and adequate housing is a precondition for recovery.

“The Housing First Model believes that you can deal with alcohol or mental health or any of these other issues while you’re living on the street somewhere -- you need to live in a home and take it from there.”

During the afternoon session’s first break, Howell took a few minutes to talk with the Daily Herald about the city’s shift to the Housing First model.

Administered by the Riverbank Development Corporation, city organizations receive about $365,000 per year from the federal government through its Homeless Partnering Strategy fund.

Intended to develop local solutions to homelessness, the federal government has stated that by 2016, at least 40 per cent of funding must adhere to the Housing First model, which they’ve concluded to be an effective approach.

Toronto provides a good example of the Housing First approach, Howell said, noting, “They have teams scouring the streets for homeless people, and they have housing specialists looking for units.”

Bachelor suites await those living on the streets, where they are linked with the services they need to hopefully make their accommodations last.

Prince Albert has scattered elements of this model already in place, Howell said, noting that the Access Place sexual health clinic has a housing placement worker, but that the city doesn’t have the on-the-street presence.

It’s based on the principle that access to housing should not be contingent on readiness or compliance, but is a basic human right Brian Howell

Prince Albert’s approach to Housing First would in all likelihood appear very differently than Toronto’s, he said, noting that Prince Albert’s homeless situation is better hidden.

“You can’t sleep outside tonight, but it’s still there,” he said, noting that there are countless people couch surfing or squatting.

At one point, Riverbank Development Corporation was looking at purchasing a townhouse in “a rougher part of town,” Howell said, during which they found 25 separate buildings with people living in the basement.

“They’re just trying to stay afloat, fly under the radar, arrive late, leave early -- it’s very sad,” he said.

There currently aren’t any statistics that reveal just how many homeless people there are in the city, he said, although current accommodations are booked solid.

“Whenever a shelter opens up it gets filled right away because people are pushed out of basements.”

The $365,000 the city receives through the Homeless Partnering Strategy, or at least 40 per cent thereof, will not be enough to fund a proper Housing First strategy, Howell said -- although it is a start.

By pointing various organizations within the city in the same direction, he said that he’s confident the city will be able to make an honest effort toward fulfilling a Prince Albert-specific version of the strategy.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first of many, Howell said, adding that a Housing First-centred community plan for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy will be drafted within two years.

Organizations: Riverbank Development, Prince Albert, Homeless Partnering Strategy Daily Herald

Geographic location: Toronto

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