Let's make sure everyone has a roof over their head

Post Date: Wednesday, November 25, 2015

One thing that’s true about Calgarians is that we love to talk about real estate. Over the past ten years, casual conversations almost always included a reference to how much prices have gone up, how people were either lucky to get into the market when they did, or lucky to find a place at all (ask anyone who bought a house here in 2007). 

Lately though, the conversation has turned. The changing economic climate in our city means that people don’t just feel lucky to have a home, but to be able to make their mortgage payments. Housing is top of mind in a completely different way.

Homelessness is no longer seen as something that happens to “other” people. At last count, there were over 3,500 homeless Calgarians. That number has stabilized over the years as Calgary has championed a Housing First strategy to fight homelessness, but it doesn’t mean our fellow citizens--our friends and neighbours--are immune to it. Who knows how many more of them are worried about their ability to continue to provide a warm, safe, home for their family?

Housing First is the belief that all people deserve housing and that the challenges that led to homelessness can best be dealt with once that person is off the street. Providing someone with a home actually saves taxpayers money – to the tune of as much of $34,000 per person annually. Once a person is housed, they spend 85 per cent fewer days in jail and 67 per cent fewer days in hospital. We know this approach works and we have experienced its success in our own community. But people can only be housed if we have somewhere for them to go.

This past Sunday, Calgarians, like others across Canada, lobbied and rallied on National Housing Day. Every year since 2000, National Housing Day has helped raise awareness about the importance of finding sustainable housing solutions for healthy communities.

The economic downturn we’re facing brings this to light even more. More than 14,000 Calgarians are at risk of homelessness in our city, and as a result of this current economic climate we expect to see even more households at risk. Many of these vulnerable citizens also face mental health problems, addiction, mobility issues, are the working poor or have simply experienced a sequence of unfortunate events.

These people need more than just a place to call home. They need help in coping with the life challenges that led them to becoming homeless in the first place. I am proud that many of my colleagues at The City of Calgary are on the front lines in this regard. We have also introduced programs like Fair Entry to help low-income Calgarians access public services in a compassionate way.

The City of Calgary has also taken the lead in creating a community strategy to address affordable housing in our city. For the past several months, stakeholders from across the housing spectrum have been meeting to figure out how to best address our housing challenges. Their answer was almost too simple: Together. But while simple in concept, its successful execution will require a commitment from our entire community to support endeavours to build more affordable housing for those in need. We have to support those who want to provide affordable housing for Calgarians – even if it ends up right in our backyard.

That brings me to private industry’s response to the challenge, which is something I don’t think enough Calgarians know about.

The RESOLVE Campaign is a Calgary-born and Canadian-first collaborative campaign. Its goal is to raise $120 million from the private sector to build the homes needed to help push Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness over the finish line. It aims to increase safe, affordable, accessible, and appropriate rental housing throughout Calgary with the goal that everyone who needs a home has a home.

RESOLVE is a unique partnership of nine established, experienced, and respected Calgary social service agencies that have come together with business and government in pursuit of a single goal: create affordable and supported rental housing for 3,000 vulnerable and homeless Calgarians. The eleven Calgary homebuilders who have contributed to RESOLVE were recently honoured by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (Calgary & Area Chapter) with the Philanthropic Group award at the 2015 Generosity of Spirit Awards. It’s exactly the type of collaboration we need, and I hope to see more innovation like it as we continue to try to meet our housing challenges.

Everyone involved in RESOLVE is participating because it makes good sense, both economically and socially.

That's good for the whole community. On National Housing Day, it certainly gives us something to celebrate.

The above article appeared in the Calgary Herald