UCalgary report says 115,000 Calgarians at ‘extreme’ risk of becoming homeless

A new UCalgary research is out with some eye-opening numbers on Calgary's housing insecurity. Henna Saeed finds out how many Calgarians are at risk of homelessness and its immediate solution.

A scathing new report out of the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy reveals an unsettling reality about homelessness in the city.

It shows tens of thousands of Calgarians could be just a paycheck away from living on the streets, despite doing everything they can to reduce spending.

New figures show 115,000 Calgarians are at “extreme” risk of losing their housing, which means any crisis or unexpected event could land them in a shelter.

The new data also shows 350 Calgarians become homeless every month.

Policy and Research Specialist at Vibrant Communities Calgary, Lee Stevens, says these eye-opening statistics highlight an unfortunate reality in the city.

“There are a lot of people living in the suburbs who think ‘This is just a downtown problem or this doesn’t impact me,'” she said. “I really want to stress that we know that elements of poverty such of risk of homelessness, exist in every ward.

“Your neighbours could be living in crowded conditions, they could be using the food bank.”

School of Public Police Professor Ron Kneebone says housing insecurity has reached households in every ward in the city — disproving the popular notion that it’s only an issue downtown.

“There at people at risk of homelessness who are couples, families, and also single-parent families and single people,” he said.

Kneebone adds that preventing homelessness is just as if — not more — important than responding to it, and needs to be focused on all levels of government policy.

Stevens noted, when it comes to homelessness, governments need to focus on preventative measures, not just response tactics.

Kneebone says taking steps such as making rent subsidies more accessible is not just the right thing to do, but is extremely cost effective.

“People who are homeless are going to suffer really bad health outcomes and that means they start to head to emergency departments looking for care,” he said. “So, this becomes expensive for the healthcare department. Often, you may see people forced into behaviours that draw the attention of police and bylaw, that’s also expensive.”

A Calgary homeless foundation study from 2020 found that for every dollar spent on every dollar spent on housing, $1.17 to $2.84 were saved in other public systems like health and justice.

This comes as demand for social supports reach all time highs in Calgary.

Organizations like the Mustard Seed Shelter, which has been at overcapacity for months, and the Calgary Food Bank, which has seen demand nearly double in just a year, are just some examples of resources being pushed to limit.

Stevens says it’s clear people are doing everything they can to stay afloat, and now the government needs to take action.

She says one measure the government could take would be making the rent subsidy program more accessible.

“Right now, the provincial government has committed to reach 24,000 households across Alberta,” Stevens explained. “That’s not going to make a dent when we know that 115,000 Calgarians alone are at imminent risk of losing their housing.”

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