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Study provides picture of homelessness, housing insecurity in Bow Valley

“The intention of this report is to provide means for agencies and leadership to determine their community’s needs, as well as the necessary responses and potential avenues to prevent or reduce homelessness and housing instability in the Bow Valley."
Canmore
The Town of Canmore. RMO File photo.

BOW VALLEY – A new study is providing a glimpse of the number of people experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity in the Bow Valley.

The report showed 112 surveys completed between Oct. 13 and Nov. 12, 2020, with 59 of those respondents experiencing issues of housing insecurity and homelessness.

The surveys were completed by people who were using one or more of the 17 community partners such as the municipalities of Banff and Canmore, the Bow Valley Food Bank and Alberta Health Services. There were also 11 members in the Bow Valley Homeless to Housing Coalition – an organization working to create both supports and services for people experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness – who also contributed to the survey.

“The qualitative findings was very poignant,” said Canmore Councillor Esmé Comfort, emphasizing how one or more issues can impact the housing instability for a person.

“It really highlighted to me how everything is fine until it isn’t. People are at risk and then they’re going along, it’s OK and one thing goes wrong, a second thing goes wrong and they’re homeless. It’s really something we need to gather data on and continue to monitor and address.”

The 2020 Canmore/Banff rural housing and service needs estimation report was presented to Canmore council at its monthly committee of the whole meeting.

The work was coordinated by Kayla Eykelboom, the housing evaluator for the Town of Canmore, and Sachiho Miller, the housing navigator for YWCA Banff. The Rural Development Network (RDN) worked in collaboration for the province-wide assessment and gave the framework for the local studies.

Does the community provide enough

The final report worked to better understand the impact of housing insecurity and homelessness in the valley. There were 26 rural Alberta communities that took part in the province-wide project, which was funded by the Canadian government’s Reaching Home fund.

Miller said the plan is to do the study every two years to get a “good picture of what homelessness looks like in small and rural communities in Alberta.”

However, Lisa Brown, Canmore’s manager of community social development, said council could choose to put it into the budget process, similar to the 2018 homelessness estimated count.

The report emphasized the project helped create four supports in the valley, including the REST pilot program for the overnight winter shelter and the Town of Canmore community common area as a COVID-19 relief program to offer a warm public space to rest indoors.

The YWCA emergency accommodation space had four short-term transitional housing units to help people between housing and the YWCA sustainable home program for a one-time interest free loan to secure and maintain housing.

According to the report, 112 surveys were completed in Canmore and Banff, and 59 people reported experiencing either homelessness or housing insecurity. They also informed the survey showed an extra 20 dependents and 66 adults were sharing their living condition. The median age was 34.

Current living situation

The 30-question survey concluded there were 145 people in the valley living in insecure housing, with 45 individuals reporting having lived in a shelter, couch-surfed or been homeless in the month before participating in the survey.

The 145 was almost a doubling from the 85 people who reported the same in the 2018 homelessness estimated count.

The report showed the three types of supports needed were financial, basic needs help and assistance with family and parenting.

Those who responded to housing insecurity issues said they had not been making enough money, were unable to pay rent or mortgage payments, were impacted by COVID-19 such as losing their job or their partner losing their job.

Though providing a detailed picture, the report noted it was an “objective snapshot of homelessness and housing instability” since not every person who needed help may have used services that were considered in the project.

Brown said the assessment could also be paired with other studies to help with future decision-making.

“We look at everything as pieces of the puzzle and this is one piece of the puzzle, and we recognize the housing needs assessment is another piece of the puzzle,” she said of using the assessment and the Bow Valley Region Housing Needs Assessment.

“It’s a broader target and it looks at a longer period of time by using the census. It also can really match up employment. It’s a great tool to help us understand the other tools.”

Main reason(s) for visiting the service

The report doesn’t give specific recommendations, but provides the first steps in moving forward in collecting data.

“The intention of this report is to provide means for agencies and leadership to determine their community’s needs, as well as the necessary responses and potential avenues to prevent or reduce homelessness and housing instability in the Bow Valley,” the report concludes.

Suggestions that could possibly help are establishing an overnight shelter, growing further awareness on homelessness and housing instability, highlighting the need for an affordable housing project and beginning coordinated community response programs.

“I think as we move forward with the work of pandemic recovery it might be very interesting to track this a little bit more closer than the RDN,” said Canmore Coun. Joanna McCallum. “It’s good information.”