Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 22, 2015
It is a surface issue few really want to acknowledge exists in our community, and it is an issue that in a time of rising costs and few options may continue to grow: helping put an end to homelessness must be a priority in our city.
In recent weeks, the city of Medicine Hat made a splash with the claim it has effectively ended homelessness in that community.
Through a proactive strategy undertaken in 2009, the city states that no person in the community will remain in a homeless shelter for more than 10 days and will have stable housing in place soon afterwards.
This undoubtedly was a lofty goal set in motion in Medicine Hat, but the reward goes beyond the social value, as there is a legitimate dollar value attached to the strategy and its effectiveness.
The city itself is not unlike Brandon. The population, although slightly higher, is close to ours, and the makeup of the community is quite similar with a mix of industry, immigration and proximity to larger centres like Calgary or Winnipeg.
Medicine Hat has the edge in many respects as far as taxation and exemption limits, but beyond that we are on fairly equal ground, which shows that a strategy such as this could find effective levels in our community as well.
No single reason can be blamed as the catalyst that puts people on the streets. Often, it is a combination of several factors, including mental health concerns, addictions, unemployment and social issues that contribute to putting people out of their homes.
Unofficially, the number of homeless people in our city hovers around the 600 mark when you include those living in emergency shelter situations.
A snapshot done in January pointed to 117 identified people “on the streets” at that time, with the numbers continually fluctuating. There is also a staggering number of Brandonites who are at risk of becoming homeless. That number is more than 5,000 according to the Homeless Hub, a research tool to help identify numbers of people in need of housing in a given community.
When you look at a city our size, the possibility exists for more than 10 per cent of
our population becoming homeless in their lifetime — staggering when you think about it.
Our city does have plans in place and strategies that do involve all levels of government, but to take a moment and think out loud, the homeless plan Medicine Hat introduced has found effectiveness, so it needs to be examined as a framework for our community as well.
Furthermore, we appear to have the right mix in place to meet the need, as our mayor indicated city council has taken up a social cause in his first State of the City address. Here’s hoping that there is substance to the mention and that real ground work can be accomplished during this mandate.
By no means is this week’s offering meant to detract from the work already in place in this community, but more to show there is room to expand and meet goals, as was the case in the Medicine Hat example.
Our city has a number of tremendous programs currently in operation and expansion of places like the Samaritan House shelter, as well as the soup kitchen, have meant that more than 35,000 meals are served yearly, and emergency housing exists for those most in need.
At the end of the day, our community is bettered by helping those who are most vulnerable, and like many things, if it can be championed at a local level without having to be bogged down in the bureaucracy that often can exist when combining strategies with politics, all the better.
A statistic to leave you with this week: In the Medicine Hat example, the feeling was that it costs a community roughly $100,000 to provide for the needs of a homeless resident in a given year. With the new strategy of the 10 days or less motto, as well as connecting people on the streets with the support networks already in place, Medicine Hat has carved that amount down to closer to $20,000 per person in that same time frame.
Still a tremendous cost, but in the grand scheme of things, if our council wants, they too could end homelessness in Brandon in the near future. It is an attainable goal with the social and financial benefits of eradicating homelessness reaching far beyond political life to positive social change.
And no matter the ideology, that is politics we as Brandonites could find reason to get behind.