Numbers suggest city's five-year plan is working
Relatively low numbers at the Lethbridge Shelter and Resource Centre during the Christmas week, despite the cold temperatures, are the latest indication that the city's efforts to combat homelessness are working.
As indicated in the story in Friday's Herald, the local shelter housed about 70 people on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, representing about 70 per cent capacity. That stands in stark contrast to the situation in Calgary where shelters were filled to capacity.
Colette Ryostock, co-ordinator of the Lethbridge shelter, credited the City of Lethbridge's five-year plan to end homelessness with having a positive effect in reducing the number of people in need of an emergency shelter. "We've seen real changes in our numbers with some of what all the community agencies are doing for support," Ryostock said. "We've seen a real reduction."
According to a report released in early December by the city and Social Housing in Action, street homelessness in Lethbridge has fallen by 50 per cent in the past year while the number of people staying in shelters has dropped by 15 per cent. Overall, homelessness is down by 27 per cent since 2011, an encouraging indication that the five-year plan is working.
But the problem isn't gone yet. While street homelessness is down, officials are still concerned about the population of "couch-surfing" youth. "There's still a fairly large number of unreported homeless," Bob Campbell, chair of the city's Community and Social Development committee, said last month. "Youth who are couch-surfing for example, they don't think they're homeless, but they are. They don't have a permanent address."
Campbell said the city is working to try to make a difference with homeless youth in the 15-25 age group.
Many of the city's homeless are the working poor, people who don't earn enough to be able to afford to put a permanent roof over their head. This group has been among the beneficiaries of the city's plan to end homelessness, and it appears the plan is on track time-wise, as officials don't see a need to extend the 2014 target.
Meanwhile, the province is midway through its own 10-year plan to end homelessness and Lethbridge West MLA Greg Weadick said in December that Alberta is a little ahead of its timeline for building more affordable housing to handle the need. But, with another million people expected to move to Alberta over the next 10 years, there will be a growing need for housing for those on the lower income levels.
Clearly, then, while progress is evident, the work must continue if Lethbridge and Alberta are going to get a handle on the homelessness situation. The filled-to-capacity shelters in Calgary during the Christmas period are an indication that there's still a large homeless population.
Thankfully, the trend in Lethbridge appears to be improving. But as long as there are people in the city who don't have a permanent place to stay, there's still work to be done.
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