Saskatoon News December 5, 2011

Ending Homelessness in Saskatoon

Calgary Homeless Foundation executive, Tim Richter, believes Saskatoon’s homelessness could end within 5 years. He is the head of an innovative housing program that has helped 2600 homeless people off the streets in Calgary and the idea is moving to Saskatoon as well as other major centres across Canada. His belief and approach is that by finding people a permanent residence as opposed to shelters and transition housing that taxpayers will be saved a lot of money. There are many social services that are there to help the homeless such as shelters, emergency services, etc but all of those cost taxpayers money. Richter’s foundation estimates that one chronically homeless person costs taxpayers up to $100,000 per year which includes the cost of shelters, police services, emergency room visits, and other medical costs. The foundation believes that if they can get the same person into a permanent residence and into social programming for $15,000 to $33,000 a year this will save taxpayers. Getting them off the streets and into homes is the goal.

Getting a Housing First plan going in Saskatoon requires a lot of support from the community as it takes a lot of coordination from service delivery agencies and other organizations to make it successful.

Our booming economy in Saskatoon has led to an increase in rents and housing prices and this affects the boom in homelessness. Our homeless population is smaller than Calgary therefore the organization believes we only need a 5 year plan but, if left unattended, we could end up with a huge problem. Here in Saskatoon we have the Lighthouse Support Living Inc group who uses some of the Housing First principals. They run a combination of emergency shelter and transitional housing (but with a SIX MONTH waiting list!) Once people have a safe place to live it is easier to work on their different issues such as mental health and addictions.

The Alberta government helped establish the foundation’s Housing First plan in Calgary and it is a non-profit organization that acts as a subcontractor for the province. The foundation’s success hinges largely on the provincial and federal governments as well as private and corporate donations. In Calgary the foundation estimates it will have built a total of 590 affordable housing units by the end of next year.

Don Allen, president of the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation, has incorporated a lot of the principles of Housing First into our housing strategy. The provincial government has committed $309 million over 5 years for increasing Saskatchewan housing supply and home ownership programs. The Lighthouse has also received provincial and civic funding for its current expansion project. The community has to be ready for Housing First and I would like to think Saskatoon is ready. Let’s get these people off the streets and into housing where they can break social cycles and get them paying rent and building self esteem and self worth as well as becoming self reliant.

As a Saskatoon real estate agent I deal with people who are able to purchase houses for sale in Saskatoon so, unless I am downtown, I rarely see the homeless population and I know that I am not alone in not knowing the full extent of how our community is affected but more so how many people are affected in their day to day lives. Obviously there are more people out there who are homeless than the average Saskatoon resident would ever see or know about so it is a huge problem and I hope that our city can pull together to get these programs up and going.

Kari Calder
Saskatoon Real Estate Agent
Century 21 Fusion