A Plan For Alberta - Alberta Human Services - Government of Alberta

A Plan For Alberta


It seems like a daunting challenge: ending homeless by 2019. It certainly won’t be easy. It will take strong commitment, continued investment, and shared vision on the part of governments, communities and citizens. But it can be done.

Many other jurisdictions and cities in North America have developed and implemented plans to end homelessness in their communities, with encouraging results. The ideas, approaches and lessons in those plans have helped inform the development of the Plan for Alberta.

The Plan for Alberta is also based on the considerable work done by Alberta’s communities to end homelessness, and it is a plan that supports their efforts.
Due to the nature of the challenge, the diversity of local conditions, and the need for creativity and innovation on the front lines of service, action on homelessness must be led at the community level.

The Secretariat believes the role of the province is not to second-guess or eclipse community plans, but instead, to undertake integrated province-wide actions that will help communities achieve success in their efforts. The province can do this both directly, by coordinating appropriate funding and resources; and indirectly, by ensuring government policies and practices do not contribute to further homelessness.

A Housing First approach

The heart of the Plan for Alberta is based on a Housing First approach – an approach that has proven successful across North America.

Adopting a Housing First approach will require a wholesale shift in thinking among governments, communities and homeless-serving agencies. This is because it involves a fundamental change in the way homeless citizens are served and assisted.

As noted earlier, homelessness is often accompanied by other challenges, such as mental illness, addiction, a lack of financial resources or under-developed life skills. Once an individual or family has fallen into homelessness, these and other challenges cumulatively act as barriers to re-housing:

  • Without a stable home, accessing financial assistance and other supports is difficult; but without assistance, it is difficult to secure a stable home.
  • The lack of a home can exacerbate problematic conditions and cause further deterioration in physical and mental health.
  • Treatment and supports are less effective.
  • Personal security can be compromised.
  • Although available as an option, supportive housing facilities sometimes stipulate conditions for admission; those who are unable to meet the conditions face another barrier to housing.

Ultimately, a homeless individual or family can end up trapped in a system that causes them to become chronically homeless.

The housing First approach breaks this cycle of homelessness. The overall goal is to move a homeless client quickly into permanent housing with supports and move them to greater self-reliance.

Top priority is given to rapid re-housing of homeless Albertans into permanent housing. Permanent housing doesn’t mean a shelter. It means a secure home using a housing option that’s appropriate for the circumstances of the individual or family.

This doesn’t mean that Alberta’s emergency shelters will completely disappear. These and other emergency services will still be needed for families or individuals who fall into crisis. However, under a Housing First approach, the role of emergency services and shelters will be to facilitate a rapid exit out of homelessness and into permanent housing.

As a homeless individual or family is re-housed, client-centered supports are made readily available to them. These supports provide the individual or family with the opportunity to secure the means to maintain their housing and restore their stability. This helps prevent them from falling back into homelessness.

The level of support will vary. Some individuals and families may need only a little support to help them stabilize in their new housing. Some may require modest levels of support from time to time. Others will need robust, ongoing support in order to remain stable in their housing and avoid becoming homeless again.

Skilled case management plays an important part in providing these supports. Case management involves working with a homeless client to identify the challenges they face. Once these are identified, case management is made available to the client to connect them with appropriate supports that can help them achieve housing stability. This can include employment or assistance benefits, mental health treatment, addictions treatment, counselling, financial assistance, skills training, or other services and resources. Case management recognizes that each homeless individual or family is unique and requires personal attention. It is critical that case managers need to be specifically educated and trained for this role.

The Plan for Alberta envisions that Alberta communities will include and employ a Housing First approach in their plans to end homelessness. The Plan calls for province-wide initiatives that will coordinate and fund homeless-serving systems based on this approach. It sets new expectations for governments, communities and agencies, requiring all partners to re-tool their operations and goal-setting. And it focuses on achieving outcomes that will shift provincial thinking from managing homelessness to ending homelessness.

The elements of the Plan are centered on 5 priority areas for action:

  • Better information – Collecting, researching and sharing essential information that focuses on outcomes.
  • Aggressive assistance – Making sure Albertans have the resources they need to secure and keep stable homes.
  • Coordinated systems – Ensuring governments, agencies, and communities work together in an integrated, efficient way towards shared objectives.
  • More housing options – Increasing the quantity and variety of housing options so that every Albertan has a home.
  • Effective policies – Implementing government policies that bring down barriers to re-housing and actively promote the goal of ending homelessness.

Better Information

Effectively taking action to end homelessness starts with reliable, meaningful information about the homeless. Better data yields better results. It helps us answer key questions such as:

  • How many Albertans are homeless and where are they?
  • How have people come into the homeless-serving system?
  • What factors are contributing to homelessness?
  • Which strategies are most effective in assisting which type of homeless?
  • Are investments and initiatives achieving the desired outcomes?
  • How can resources be most efficiently allocated?

Information also helps homeless-serving agencies provide more effective support to Alberta’s homeless. Data is gathered on the front lines when homeless Albertans come into contact with the homeless system, such as at an emergency shelter.

In order for data to be useful it needs to be collected in consistent ways and analyzed using defensible, reliable methods. By employing appropriate data standards and allocating resources to research, better information about homelessness will identify solutions and best practices; better inform planning efforts; and help Alberta measure progress and success as it works towards ending homelessness.

Aggressive Assistance

Alberta needs to ensure it offers aggressive supports that:

  • help prevent homelessness from occurring;
  • provide emergency response services to individuals and families who
    fall into homelessness, and;
  • help re-housed clients achieve housing stability.

Effective preventive programs are important for stabilizing those who are at risk of homelessness. Short-term income gaps or unaffordable rents can push an individual or family into homelessness. A range of other challenges, such as addictions issues, mental health issues, or family violence, can also place an individual or family at great risk of becoming homeless. If Albertans can secure the assistance they need quickly and readily, they can avoid falling into homelessness.

For those who fall into homelessness, emergency response efforts need to work aggressively in providing relief. This includes moving people rapidly out of homelessness and into permanent housing. Once a homeless individual or family is re-housed, effective supports need to be available for them to readily access.

Provincial programs and services play a major role in preventing, responding to, and ending homelessness. Programs and services must be available to those in need and must be adequate to meet their needs. They must respond to increases in Alberta’s cost of living and account for unique local market conditions, such as those in the Fort McMurray region. They must also be accessible, with complementary eligibility criteria that avoid trapping a client between services.

Most importantly, Alberta government programs and services need to be aligned so that they operate in a coordinated fashion, working together towards a shared goal of ensuring Albertans can obtain adequate resources to secure and keep a home.

Coordinated Systems

Moving to a Housing First approach across Alberta necessitates a fundamental shift in the way mainstream systems operate. It requires that Alberta government departments, institutions, and homeless-serving agencies change the focus of their business goals from managing homelessness to ending homelessness. No matter where homeless clients come into contact with these systems, they must be rapidly moved to permanent housing and efficiently connected with appropriate supports.

This requires a higher degree of coordination between systems at the provincial and local levels.

  • There must be alignment between provincial and community plans to end homelessness.
  • Community plans need to include Housing First philosophies and key practices such as case management.
  • Service must be client-centered, with government departments and agencies working collaboratively to easily connect clients with appropriate assistance.
  • Provincial institutions such as hospitals and corrections facilities must work with local homeless-serving agencies to ensure no one leaves their care into homelessness or remains trapped in homelessness.

The work of homeless-serving not-for-profit agencies will also need to be coordinated, since these agencies play a large role in the homeless system. Agencies will need to work towards achieving Alberta’s objectives in ways that are consistent with the Plan for Alberta. To achieve this coordination, funding to homeless-serving agencies will need to be outcome-driven, while providing adequate and appropriate resources to help agencies address the challenges and pressures they face.

More Housing Options

In order to end homelessness, every Albertan needs to have a home. Under a Housing First approach, this means that every homeless individual and family requires permanent housing with supports.

The degree of support will vary. Chronically homeless clients may need robust, ongoing supports to help them address serious challenges and achieve stability. Others may need intermittent support, such as occasional financial assistance, to maintain their stability. Some will stabilize immediately in a home and require very little support.

Every client, however, will require permanent housing that is appropriate for their needs and circumstances. A range of different housing options will be required, such as:

  • Greater availability of existing rental units;
  • Construction of new rental units;
  • Single room occupancy buildings;
  • Room-and-board arrangements;
  • Affordable housing.

While housing developments are proposed and approved at the municipal level, the province has a strong role to play in determining province-wide housing needs and facilitating their creation. The Alberta government can use its financial and policy levers to develop strategies and incentives that will increase the number of housing options through various means.

Alberta can also work with the federal government and municipal governments to identify actions those governments could take to encourage the creation of more housing options in Alberta.

Effective Policies

Government policies have an impact on the success of efforts to fight and end homelessness.

Rules that function very well for most Albertans can be major barriers for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Innovative solutions need to be found so that government policies accomplish their objectives without hindering those in need of help.

Regulatory barriers can also exacerbate homelessness by making it difficult to develop more affordable housing options. Inefficient approval processes, process delays, and red tape result in frustration for developers and landlords, and contribute to higher housing costs. Policies must be reviewed in conjunction with other governments, the private sector and the not-for-profit sector, with a view to eliminating these kinds of barriers.

Policy-setting is also one of two major tools the Alberta government can utilize to bring about a coordinated province-wide Housing First approach. (The other major tool is funding arrangements.) Legislative and regulatory changes can influence the behaviour of homeless-serving systems, helping to foster the operational changes needed to shift our thinking from managing homelessness to ending it.

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