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Province aims high but misses the mark

The City of Red Deer has led the country with its efforts to end homelessness. In the province, Calgary and Edmonton followed Red Deer's lead.

The City of Red Deer has led the country with its efforts to end homelessness.

In the province, Calgary and Edmonton followed Red Deer's lead. And then in 2009, the Alberta government took Red Deer's initiative and unveiled its own plan to end homelessness over 10 years.

Of course, all provincial plans followed the lead of the American federal government's ground-breaking strategy to prevent and end homelessness in a plan and report called Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

A key component in the American strategy, and seized by Red Deer and Mayor Morris Flewwelling, was the Housing First plan; getting the chronic homeless off the streets first and then dealing with the many issues they confront – addictions, mental illnesses and unemployment, to name just a few.

Red Deer's Housing First program at the Buffalo Hotel has showed positive results in spite of some concerns and challenges.

But there is now a growing call in the City that youth should be immediately targeted on the homelessness front.

In an Express special report last month, we discovered that social service agencies believe there are up to 70 youth in the City who have no permanent home. In the meantime there are now only eight provincially funded emergency beds to deal with this issue.

This is unacceptable, especially in the city that has led the country on the issue of homelessness.

Last week, the provincial government announced a $1.3 million Power Youth Initiative, a three-year pilot project designed to be preventative in steering vulnerable youth away from the dire consequences of the streets, including homelessness.

There is much to salute about this initiative, which is partnering with the City of Red Deer Social Planning, Employment Placement and Support Services, the RCMP and Teen and Young Adult Sexual Health. The project is being hailed as a "one stop shop" service centre where vulnerable youth will be able to access assistance with career planning, mentoring opportunities, mental, physical and emotional support, overall health and lifestyle choices and recreational opportunities.

But direct help to immediately deal with the primary concern of youth homelessness in Red Deer is absent, despite the growing concerns over the past year that have been passed on to the provincial government by local social service officials that the problem of chronically homeless youth in the City is a grave one.

In spite of its admirable intentions, the province must move quickly to redirect its priorities. Another read of the ground-breaking American report would be a good start.