A new homelessness strategy offers a set of beliefs, areas of focus, and measurements for the city of Grande Prairie, based on lessons from the past decade.
Following Tuesday’s Grande Prairie Protective and Community Services committee meeting director Chris Manuel clarified the city’s proposed strategy on homelessness.
“I think there are a number of factors that led to the convergence of what we saw a few years back,” Community and Protective Services Director Chris Manuel said in reference to the homeless camps on the east side of downtown. “Frankly, there were pieces of the puzzle that were missing on our continuum of care and some that are still missing today, but a number of them have been filled in.”
The large outdoor camps set out by Rotary House a couple of years ago led to the city and the community at large to recognizes how the opioid crisis, the languishing economy at the time, plus limited capacity in the support systems available was impacting the city.
On the enforcement side, traditional approaches were less available and ineffective in addressing long-term housing issues.
“If you fast forward a bit, we end up in COVID,” Manuel said. “COVID again really presented for us gaps that existed within that system.”
The city began to realize it needed to be a full-spectrum provider, get involved directly — like with the Mobile Outreach Program — and become a direct funder for other initiatives that allow the city and other agencies to address homelessness collectively.
“The analogy I like to use is … a quarterback on the team,” Manuel said about Protective and Community Service’s role. “We don’t want to be the service provider for all pieces, but we want to be a member of that team in helping everybody perform better and overcome.”
The core issue
The city’s strategy will focus on meeting the needs of the individual rather a one-size fits all solution.
“I think what the strategy identified is the existing housing first program, which relies on market housing, is just not an appropriate first step and in some cases — ever a step — for some individuals particularly facing chronic homelessness,” Manuel said.
“Ultimately, the strategy recognizes that diverse housing options, particularly supportive housing options, are going to be critical in providing a broad range of options. So we can place the right housing solution for the specific needs of the client, instead of trying to force people into a model that is not going to work for their specific needs.”
The goals and measurements of the new strategy find their roots in the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy and will be gauged by government, academic and community partnerships.
Lessons from Parkside
The city learned some lessons from the past two years of using the Parkside Motel to house some homeless.
“The Parkside didn’t come about as an intentional, purposefully designed permanent supportive housing solution,” Manuel said. “It was, and I can speak to it from an enforcement perspective, we acknowledge that we tried conventional law enforcement approaches to solve those issues that were occurring, and they were not working.
“So the decision was made, let’s rethink this and try something different, and we did that by putting a housing support team in place.”
In addition to stabilizing things, “it did inform a number of pieces for us that we just hadn’t been aware of before around having the right solution around for the client. Not any model, no matter its intent, is going to be perfect.”
Manuel added the city would use some of the lessons learned going forward with projects like the Fletcher Building and the proposed Coordinated Care Campus.
For more information on the Coordinated Care Campus click here.
“I think it has been a very useful experience, and even some of our opponents to the project, they have connected with me recently and indicated that they believe that administration is pursuing options that consider the feedback received from this pilot,” Manuel said.
“It was great to hear the report today,” added Mayor Jackie Clayton. “The report involves many partnerships within our community, and the hope is to build and foster relationships across various (sectors). The strategy really actions and leverages a variety of appropriate housing options.”
Over the past decade, the city has seen a dramatic drop in homelessness.
“Between 2009 and 2020, over 1,000 people were experiencing homelessness and moved through housing first programs,” Clayton said. “Currently, as of April 2021, the census of the homeless population in the city of Grande Prairie is just over 200. These numbers are more accurate and more reflective of what is actually happening within our city.”
Original Article: https://www.dailyheraldtribune.com/news/city-of-grande-prairie-announces-strategy-to-battle-homelessness