They say home is where the heart is. But for Calgary’s estimated 4,500 homeless, the audacious idea of having each one of them come in from the cold under a roof of their own is the domain of those with big hearts.
Nineteen months after the Calgary Homeless Foundation launched the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, the goal hasn’t changed, even as the economy has led to another increase in the number of people sleeping on Calgary’s streets.
The idea itself immediately sparks skepticism, evoking an age-old assertion that many “choose” the homeless lifestyle.
“I think it’s nonsense,” said Tim Richter, president of the Calgary Homeless Foundation. “I think if you are in deep, deep poverty and your choices are sleeping in an alley or sleeping in some kind of shelter, what choice is that really?”
The recession left its mark on Calgary’s streets with officials estimating the number of homeless soaring by 13 per cent over the summer.
Richter admits the second year of the plan has been sailing into “a bit of a headwind,” as the job market has dried up and many who were on the verge of becoming homeless are now living on the streets.
Despite that, the plan is ahead of many of its housing targets and the foundation hopes to have 891 low-income units filled by Christmas.
The idea of eliminating homelessness is relatively simple. Provide not only the bricks and mortar, but also the social supports needed to deal with addiction, mental illness and other pitfalls that have made it a challenge to provide permanent housing.
But along with heart comes a healthy dose of hope.
“I don’t know if anybody has completely eradicated homelessness,” Richter said.
“But London, England, started working on a plan in the mid-’90s and they haven’t managed to do it, but they’ve made very good progress — there will be more people sleeping outside tonight in Calgary than in London.
“An end to homelessness will happen one person at a time and we can do it here.”