BOW VALLEY – When it comes to helping valley residents facing a housing crisis, the Homeless to Housing Coalition has been meeting that recurring need for over a decade.
The project began originally as Banff Residents Responding Responsibly (BRRR) in 2006 to fund short-term accommodation for those in the community who may be without a roof over their head and at risk of injury or death due to weather.
In 2016, the program evolved into the Homeless to Housing Coalition and included Canmore, as well as providing additional supports to those at risk of experiencing homelessness.
As an interagency, inter-municipal group, it is chaired by Canmore’s manager of community social development Lisa Brown and includes representation from Alberta’s mental health services with program facilitator Ella-Jean Schatzmann, who presented an update on the service to Canmore council in March.
“It is a coalition between municipalities and various agencies, organizations and church groups that have an interest and look to support individuals in crisis of homelessness and see the need to address that,” Schatzmann said. “We recognize what a major concern this can be and if we work together we can provide those supports.”
Those who access the program range from individuals who live rough in Banff or Canmore, but require temporary housing when temperatures in winter get low or conditions put them at risk, to those living in staff accommodation who find themselves evicted as a result of the fact they have also lost employment.
It also helps those who may soon find themselves without housing and are struggling to find a new place to live, and people who arrive in the valley looking for employment and housing, but who lack financial resources.
“We know if we work together we can try to support people proactively to prevent a crisis,” Schatzmann said. “We don’t build long-term housing, we are not in the business of creating affordable housing, but we recognize there are those needs in our community.”
The Homeless to Housing Coalition does not operate a shelter in the valley, but can provide assistance to get individuals to shelter space in Calgary. It can also provide access to short-term accommodation at the YWCA in Banff.
“As a coalition we don’t provide emergency accommodation, but organize supports for those who are in need,” Brown said.
The coalition received grant funding this year to hire a coordinator to help streamline the supports they offer and create a work plan. Schatzmann said that means they will be able to ensure the process used to support people in the community in a housing crisis is workable.
As well, funding has been obtained to renovate two rooms at the YWCA facility that could be used as emergency accommodation if needed. Those rooms would not be dedicated to that specific purpose, however, and Schatzmann reiterated that the space is not a shelter.
“One of our goals moving forward is building better relationships with the urban centres,” she added. “Sometimes referrals to a shelter in the urban centre makes the most sense for an individual.”
Brown told council that various local agencies that come into contact with someone experiencing a housing crisis situation know how to use the process currently in place to access those supports. That includes the RCMP and addiction and mental health services.
She said the coalition wants every door to be the right door for those seeking support.
According to a survey of the program in 2016, over a three month period, there were 26 individuals who presented as homeless or at risk of homeless: 30 per cent were over the age of 50 years; 30 per cent were families; 30 per cent lived in the Bow Valley for at least four years; almost 40 per cent were in their 20s; 23 per cent lived rough; 15 per cent couched surfed and 30 per cent lived in motels.
Since 2011, the program has served 233 clients and provided 617 nights of short-term emergency accommodation for those in need of housing.