Chronic homelessness in Calgary could be eliminated within two years, according to Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who spoke about the issue following the federal government’s throne speech on Wednesday.
However, Nenshi said the caveat to reaching such a goal would be a commitment from all levels of government to come to an agreement.
“A lot of money will need to come quickly,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “If [the federal and provincial governments] are willing to come to the table with us, then let’s use this opportunity and make real change for a lot of people.
“If we can get support from the federal and provincial governments, we can end chronic homelessness in Calgary within two years.”
During the throne speech, delivered by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette in Ottawa on Wednesday, the federal government committed to ending chronic homelessness in Canada.
The commitment comes after the Trudeau Liberals, a majority government at the time of the announcement in 2017, said it was working to reduce chronic homelessness by 50 per cent.
“The government has already helped more than a million people get a safe and affordable place to call home,” Payette said.
“Given the progress that has been made, and our commitment to do more, the government is now focused on entirely eliminating chronic homelessness in Canada.”
Payette noted in the speech that the federal government also plans to make “substantial” investments to housing, and the construction of new affordable housing units.
“This is huge because we have had the Homeless First and Chronic Homelessness strategies in place for almost 15 years across the country,” Nenshi said. “But to have the federal government actually say, ‘We are going to eliminate chronic homelessness,’ is a massive policy step.”
Nenshi said the federal government’s investment of $1 billion for cities to buy motels and hotels for rapid housing is a good first step, but more work will need to be done through all three levels of government.
According to Matt Nomura, vice-president of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, the funding will be used to alleviate constraints on shelters in the city through transitional housing.
“The evidence shows that the longer you stay in a shelter, your propensity for staying there for a longer period of time increases,” Nomura said. “This commitment from the federal government is really signalling that health is home here in Canada.”
According to the City of Calgary, there is a shortage of affordable housing units in the city with an average of 308 new units becoming available every year since 2011. However, city data showed that to meet that shortage, between 2,000 and 2,500 new units are needed every year.
Nomura acknowledged that eliminating homelessness in Calgary within two years is an ambitious if attainable goal, but the process would need to be addressed in two steps: choice in affordable housing and an understanding of mental health and substance misuse in the city’s homeless population.
“Having more affordable housing for those individuals provides for more options for people to become housed and not have to spend a night in a shelter,” Nomura said.
“And then shelters are being used for what they should be used for: emergency situations. And then we can work with the individual to get them properly housed.”
Nenshi said he would be awaiting the federal budget to get a better idea of how the commitments and investments announced in the speech would be rolled out.
However, the government’s commitments hinge on a vote in the House of Commons, which is not expected for weeks as Parliament develops a plan to conduct its business during the pandemic.
If the government loses the vote, Parliament will be dissolved and an election will be called.
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