It’s 2017, and yet homelessness in Canada persists in all corners of our country, from mega-city to small town. One striking exception is Medicine Hat, where CMHA Southeast Region has been helping put the community on the map. On the heels of Alberta’s 10-year plan to end homelessness, Medicine Hat adopted its own 5-year plan in 2010. Since then, the town of just over 63,000 has housed 1000 residents who had formerly been homeless. CMHA Southeast Region, with their Housing First program, has been there to make sure this steadfast community meets its goal.
Many jurisdictions in Canada, including Alberta, have adopted a Housing First approach to getting people off the street and into homes. Based on the knowledge that people need to be housed first, before their other problems can be solved, the Housing First model provides housing in conjunction with other supports.
“We embraced the philosophy of Housing First; that all individuals have a right to home and deserve a safe place to live,” explained Cori Fischer, Executive Director of the Alberta Southeast Region. “We recognized that it is tremendously difficult to find a secure source of income without a permanent address, and near impossible to address any other medical, physical or mental issues without first feeling safe and having the basic necessities of life.”
That’s where CMHA Southeast Region comes in, providing services and supports to people once they are initially housed. In conjunction with other community organizations, the CMHA’s Housing First program links individuals to services quickly. As Fischer notes: “Medicine Hat has reached our goal, meaning that anyone who is chronically or episodically homeless that requests services is connected with a program within ten days.” Employing four outreach workers and one team leader, the CMHA’s program provides supports, including intensive case management. The program is recovery-oriented, and does not impose help; rather caseworkers work together with participants to develop an action plan to help keep them housed and meet their specific needs.
Meanwhile, CMHA Southeast Region is getting ready for the next stage: “Programming is going to adjust to continue to meet the needs of our community,” Fischer went on to say. “This will include implementing a Permanent Supportive Housing (apartment) for those who require more intensive services to remain housed. We are also going to look more at preventive programs, addressing income and poverty that may prevent homelessness.”