Category Archives: Research highlights

Finding Free Tax Help in Covid-19

Having your taxes up to date is incredibly important in order to access a host of benefits and governmental helps.  This is especially true for Seniors and low-income people and families.

Providing help on this front has proven quite challenging and many faith-based institutions have had to cancel their free tax clinics this year, but some have found a way to carry this work forward navigating the Covid-19 restrictions.

During the Covid-19 crisis, Interfaith Housing Initiative has been working with a few partners who work to serve immigrants in drawing together a strong list of places you can go for help here in the Edmonton area.  You can read the list we’ve put together here:

Free Tax clinics in Covid – May 21, 2020

We found a pretty strong group of organizations who have found a way, and provide help to all kinds of folks; including newcomer families, peoples with disabilities, seniors, homeless neighbours.   Please share this list with anyone looking for this help.

We update this list weekly to keep it current!


Additional public resources:

For new updates to available resources in the Edmonton area, you can also phone 211.

The Government of Canada also provides some resources and instruction on how to do your taxes at the following link:  Filing Taxes

 

Rent Assistance and New Funding for Affordable Housing Scaled back in Provincial Budget 2019

In 2018, CRIHI identified four priorities that we continue to believe are critical to stabilizing people and families in safe and affordable homes; crucial to the success of efforts to combat poverty in Edmonton.

  1. The Portable Housing Benefit (Rent assistance tied to a household)
  2. Permanent Supportive Housing
  3. Mobile Support Workers
  4. A Vision for the Way Ahead (emphasizing a healthy integration of housing and supports in communities across the city)

To promote these priorities, we gathered together on September 6, 2018 at Evangel Pentecostal Assembly.  The report and presentations from that event is here: https://wp.me/p20ewB-Pk.  At this event, CRIHI shared these four priorities with government leaders at federal, municipal and provincial levels.


In November of 2019, Interfaith Housing made inquiries to housing and community services ministries at the Province in order to explore the impact of the Provincial budget on efforts to provide housing and help to under-housed people and families in Edmonton.  Our requests were answered with clarity and honesty, but the news is not good for now.

CRIHI is sad to learn that the 2019 capital budget points to a disinvestment in two of the areas we highlighted as critical:

Permanent Supportive Housing
In Capital Plan 2019 there is no new funding for affordable or supportive housing.  The province is continuing with seven projects already underway.  New projects or proposals are being considered in the gearing up for Capital Plan 2020 using the existing capital planning process.  But it is unknown what kind of dollars will be allocated in 2020’s budget.   We hope this is only a temporary pause, but that remains unclear.

There is also no new money for Senior’s housing this year.  This area remains a concern as Alberta will face a Senior’s housing crunch in the next fifteen years as aging baby boomers enter that phase of life.  A shortage of housing options will almost certainly be felt most keenly by low-income seniors. If we are to prevent a crisis in the future, greater investments are needed beginning now; especially on more affordable options.

The Portable Housing Benefit 
(Rent assistance provided to a household in need)
Budget 2019 begins a gradual reduction to rental assistance programs.  Existing subsidies are carrying forward, but providers have been given instructions to halt any new intake into that program.  The stated purpose of that pause is so that a ministry can do a redesign of the program to ensure those who most need it are receiving it.  But further disinvestment in this help is also slated over the next few years, purportedly to save money.

Below are the reductions to rental assistance slated to be rolled out for the next three years:
2019 – $500,000 reduction
2021 – 11 million dollar reduction
2022 – 16 million dollar reduction

This news is particularly disheartening as the money saved is a very small amount, and it comes out of a program that provides flexible and immediate aid to families on the very edge.  And there are many…

In 2019 there were 21,000 Edmonton households paying more than 50% of their income to rent; with some families paying as high as 100%!  The wait list for affordable housing can be three to five years.  For families in these circumstances, subsidies like the child tax benefit may be all they have to cover food, transportation and other key expenses.  A rent subsidy provides immediate help to these households stuck in this crisis.

Rent Assistance is also an area where faith communities are largely unable to help out currently.  Churches, Mosques, Temples and Gurdwaras can sometimes respond with crisis funding to cover a stay in a motel if someone loses their housing, but monthly help with the rent is a challenging commitment that most do not have financial or organizational capacity to address.

A rent subsidy provides immediate help to households in crisis.  Research has also shown such subsidies to be effective in stabilizing people and families.  For this reason, CRIHI continues to promote investments in rent assistance as critical to the effort to address poverty in our city and province.


It is our hope and our prayer that this provincial budget represents only a pause by the Province in it’s efforts to reconfigure provincial finances.  The lack of investments in real help for the most vulnerable people and families in our province will come at great cost to all of us down the road; weighed both financially and in human tragedy.

In this case, the real solutions are cheaper! The financial case for Permanent Supportive Housing

When the real fixes are cheaper than bandaid solutions, why would we choose to stick with bandaids?

Edmonton’s most vulnerable citizen is her homelesss neighbour.  These (our brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, sons and daughters lost to the street) must journey daily from soup kitchen to drop-in to emergency shelter with long walks all day (or all night) being chased out of public spaces, with little access to bathrooms, vulnerable to attack or theft as soon as they try to get some sleep; and battling addictions or mental health concerns on top of physical ailments and injuries.  Today around 70% of Edmonton’s street population is chronically homeless; with most of these losing years (even decades) to the street, and with many succumbing to their illnesses every year.

For the chronically homeless real help is more than a shelter bed, a hospital bed, or a prison bed.  Real help (the kind that’s working!) is  Permanent Supportive Housing.  But building these places requires a significant investment.  The question is: Will we pay it, and is it really cheaper than the status quo?

In recent years, City Council has identified the need for 900 units of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) as critical to successfully addressing homelessness in our city.  PSH provides stable housing paired with wraparound support and care for people with multiple complex needs including mental health, addictions, trauma and disabilities or physical ailments.

The Provincial government is a major player in the work of addressing housing and homelessness.  Health care funding and capitol dollars for affordable and supportive housing fall primarily in their jurisdiction, with significant assistance and a shared responsibility from partners at both federal and municipal levels.

As belt-tightening looms over the upcoming budget discussions in our province there is concern that effective help and treatment for the chronically homeless will be one of those areas that is lost.  The province has announced additional funding for 4000 addiction treatment beds, which is very good news and much needed.  But there is some concern that other needed investments may be dropped, slowing some of the positive movement that Edmonton has been able to celebrate in the last few years.  A main pillar of success in help to people experiencing chronic homelessness is Permanent Supportive Housing.

In 2018, CRHI identified Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) as one of our four critical priorities. 

We continue to give our support for this critical effort on the conviction that we can and we must do better to help our most vulnerable neighbours. The financial case only cements our conviction that this is the right way forward.  the cost of doing better is actually less than the status quo.  Doing it wrong is not only ineffective, it’s also more expensive than doing it right!

Q:  Is it really cheaper than the status quo?  Consider this portrait from the City of Edmonton 


“Providing appropriate housing for people experiencing homelessness generates significant cost savings to emergency, health, and justice systems in addition to freeing up resources for other Edmontonians in need of those services. Individuals who are sleeping outside are more likely to have complex co-occurring mental and physical health challenges, often compounded by substance abuse, that result in frequent and inappropriate use of health services. A hospital stay for a person experiencing homelessness costs more than $8,000 per day and an emergency room visit $840.

The negative financial impacts are demonstrated in a 2007-08 study that found that just ten heavy individuals system users among the homeless population cost Alberta Health Services an estimated $3.5 million alone in a single year.  This impact is consistent with other major cities across Canada, evidenced by a 2014 study that followed 990 people with mental health issues who were experiencing homelessness in five Canadian cities cost systems $53,144 per person on average annually.

Over the last ten years, Edmontonians have made significant progress in ending homelessness. Since 2009, more than 8,400 people have been housed and overall homelessness in our city has been reduced by 43 percent. In addition, these efforts saved an estimated $920 million in health and justice system costs.”


Up front, PSH requires a relatively large investment of land, capital dollars and operating dollars.  Here are the numbers the City of Edmonton has put forward to federal and provincial partners in a whitepaper submitted in September of 2019:


PSH facilities are created on a sliding spectrum from high to low intensity, and different kinds and levels of supports.  At the high intensity end of the spectrum, we see a facility like Ambrose Place here in Edmonton; a facility that the city featured as an example to accompany their submission to the Province. As you will see, even this more expensive example of PSH is still saving money.

Consider this case study of Ambrose Place; an example of




As the provincial budget is released in the next few weeks, CRIHI asks you to join us in watching for continuing funding for Permanent Supportive Housing.  Creating places of real healing and hope is the only way to help some of our most vulnerable neighbours.  It is cheaper than surrendering to bandaid solutions, and it actually works to help people!

Let’s get this right!

Edmonton considering a 16% Affordable Housing Target in every neighbourhood

On Monday afternoon, August 13, 2018, city staff will be presenting an affordable housing framework to City Council Executive.  The need for such a framework is driven by the reality of a steep rise in housing cost in many Canadian cities since the turn of the millenium, and numbers from Statistics Canada that tell us almost 50,000 renter households In Edmonton face difficulty finding housing they can afford.

City staff are proposing a city-wide affordable housing framework (laid out in City Policy C601) to guide the planning and development of City-funded affordable housing projects. There are two important changes that this policy recommends:

  1. That to meet the current needs of Edmontonians, the City encourages affordable housing city-wide, and aspires to 16% affordable housing in all neighbourhoods and wards.
  2. That all new affordable housing projects are evaluated against the same five criteria to ensure consistency and transparency.

Recognizing that the geographic location of a development is only one of multiple factors to consider, the framework lays out five criteria to evaluate affordable housing project proposals

  • The degree of affordability (level of rent payments charged in the project)
  • Whether the proposed development has funding from other orders of government
  • The proximity of the development to amenities and supports
  • The overall project design
  • The broader geographic context of the development’s location

This framework aims to provide a consistent way to assess affordable housing funding proposals from community organizations and the private sector. This means that every affordable housing proposal will be evaluated using the same five criteria, and the existing neighbourhood context and services will be taken into consideration when the City looks at funding affordable housing.

Is 16% too much? 

CRIHI has been grappling with the larger question for some time. and has formulated our answer as follows:

A 16% guideline for distribution of affordable housing across Edmonton is not high, and in itself poses no threat to neighbourhood vitality.

Supporting observations:

  1. The research shows little correlation between rates of non-market housing and neighbourhood distress here in Edmonton.
  2. The 16% suggested target is not high when one considers the practice of other jurisdictions with social safety nets comparable to Canada.  For example: the floating city of Ijburg in the Netherlands is intentionally designed with 30% Social housing, 30% home ownership, and 40% market rental on each block.  The Netherlands has been intentionally designing communities with a steady integration of non-market and mixed-income housing developments since the second world war.

To see our answer in the context of the larger question, please see our Housing FAQ:

How much is too much? and supporting research.


Interested to come see and hear the report on August 13?
Come join us!

CRIHI will be there to hear and respond to this report, and is inviting faith community folks to come out in a show of support for meaningful housing solutions.  We anticipate a great deal of interest from other groups as well, so there is likely to be a fairly strong lineup of people to speak to this report.  CRIHI’s voice will be one of them.

This meeting is designated time specific to begin at 1:30 on Monday, August 13 at City Hall, in the River Valley Room.

To access the formal policy proposal, please go to the following link:
http://sirepub.edmonton.ca/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=1964&doctype=AGENDA
Framework and supporting documents are available with the June 18 agenda, under item 6.16

How the Dutch do Affordable Housing

“The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and has a very expensive housing market.  And yet, it also provides one of the best examples in Europe of quality, well-integrated affordable housing. What can Canada learn from their example?”

The Dutch have been at this a long time.  Initial efforts to provide more affordable housing were actually started by private merchants and industrialists in the 1800s who wanted better housing for their workers.  In the early 1900s the government began to be involved, and supported the development of housing associations.  Following WWII, these Housing Associations took on a major role in helping rebuild the country’s housing stock, with intentional focus on making affordable housing accessible to low-income populations all across the country.  In the 1990s, a new deal was made with housing associations, pulling out all government subsidies in exchange for significant freedom in their continued development of housing with at least a portion of this being affordable/social housing.

In recent years, changing regulations, new government tax levies coupled with rising pressures from land scarcity and an influx of new migrants have made this work much harder.  But so much has been done right over the years that the Netherlands is handling these pressures better than many of their counterparts in the EU.


Here’s an overview of some of the history:

dutch housing history
Source:  housing-futures.org


In the Netherlands today, Housing Associations provide for around 60% of the country’s population.  Social housing accounts for 37 per cent of the total stock across the country, and as much as 75 per cent of the total rented stock.  There are well over 300 housing associations at work across the country, with at least one in every municipality.  They are required to function within governmental frameworks, but operate with some freedom, catering to market demand while carrying a social duty to provide for low-income populations.  Many of these housing associations also invest in the life and health of the local community, supporting the growth of local businesses, local schools, and local services like Libraries and community gathering spaces.

The Dutch choose Integration over Segregation
Of particular significance has been the Dutch emphasis on Integration.  Housing associations have long created sustainable mixed-income developments with breakdowns such as:  20% low income; 60% middle income; 20% high income.   In these developments, high income housing helps pay for the low income housing to make it a sustainable model for market development.  As of 1994, housing associations have been able to continue to build on this model entirely without government funding.

Now there is no magic to this model.  Tensions around race, class, faith or cultural background do not simply evaporate when people live in proximity.  These mixed income blocks in the Netherlands experience tensions between homeowners and social renters. But when there is some effort on all sides to bridge gaps, it often leads to a much better understanding of existing issues. In some settings, a community manager was employed to assist with this connection and support efforts at bridge building.

Another example of the Dutch emphasis on integration are the housing units planned and built in the floating city of IJburg (pictured below).  Home to around 20,000 people already, with around 45,000 anticipated upon completion, Housing breakdowns in Ijburg are divided into three categories: 30% of affordable rental units, 30% of private properties, and 40% of market-rate rental units. Each block in IJburg includes these three categories, mixing homeowners, social, and market-rate renters. All residents share playgrounds, courtyards, public squares, shopping centres and canals.

Dutch housing ijburg


Does integration make a difference? 
In other EU countries, like France and Sweden, market forces have largely determined where high-income and low-income housing is located.  That has led to some segregation and even the ghettoization of different populations.  That dynamic has flavoured how well these countries are able to respond to and integrate the influx of migrants and refugees.  New migrants are forced to find homes in less desirable areas of the city, where they often experience less opportunity for employment, negative stigmas, higher stress, longer commutes to work, and less access to social supports.  These challenges serve as significant barriers to healthy integration, and sometimes result in high levels of tension and conflict.  The city of London, in the United Kingdom currently struggles to bring in workers to do low-paying jobs, as local housing is so expensive and low-income workers have to commute as much as two hours.

By way of contrast, In the Netherlands migrants and other low-income populations have much greater choices available for where they can live.  They also benefit from much easier access to support services, and are naturally integrated into the fabric of the community.   Better opportunity for work and for relationship with more established Dutch neighbours makes a difference on how they think about and find their place in their new home.  As has been noted, there is no magic to this approach, and intentional efforts at community-building are necessary to make it work, but the Dutch example shows it can work well.

How do the Dutch rank in the EU on social housing?
“The data show the highest rates of satisfaction in Austria and Finland, followed by Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden – countries where the social housing sector (or actually municipal rental housing in the case of Sweden) is relatively large and typically houses a wide and diversified population group. Malta also shows a rate of satisfaction, despite having a smaller social housing sector.
Also interesting, users of social housing services tend to give higher quality ratings than non-users – showing that there is still some degree of prejudice and misconceptions about this sector in the wider public.”  (Source: http://www.housingeurope.eu/resource-1048/quality-of-life-in-the-eu)

Article by Mike Van Boom, Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative 


Further sources:
https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/greathomesanddestinations/living-above-and-below-the-waters-surface-in-amsterdam.html

https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/ex/sustainablecitiescollective/challenges-dutch-inclusive-neighborhood/202861/

https://www.wohnforum.arch.ethz.ch/sites/default/files/tagungen/tagungsbericht_regout.pdf

Efforts to Aid Heavy users of Service Paying Off!

The following research highlights are from the 2017 report entitled: HEAVY USERS OF SERVICE SOCIAL RETURN ON INVESTMENT (SROI) ANALYSIS


The Heavy Users of Services (HUoS) project was launched in 2013 as a partnership consisting of 16 groups including health and social service providers, first responders, justice services, Indigenous-focused organizations, and government representatives. The initiative was developed as a response to community members who are highly vulnerable, cycle through the systems, and repeatedly “fall through the cracks”. By establishing an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) and consent forms, agencies were able to share information across sectors, facilitating more comprehensive and holistic service delivery.

Since its implementation in late 2013, HUoS has supported a total of 27 individuals that are characterized as being:
▪ Edmonton’s most frequent users of health, justice, and social services
▪ often involved in social disorder incidents as both victims and offenders
▪ extremely vulnerable human beings with complex needs
▪ disproportionately Indigenous and experiencing the intergenerational impact of residential schools, colonization and loss of traditional family support networks
▪ often living with the long-term and irreversible impact of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
▪ mired by a range of mental and physical health issues, addictions, and homelessness
▪ people who have experienced deeply traumatic life events
▪ people for whom systemic barriers and gaps prevent or reduce access to supports, treatment, and programming.

The project worked to coordinate efforts from numerous angles, including better communication, provision of housing and supports, and committed case management resources.


The project team was able to track some measurable success as can be seen in the graphic below:

The Project team was also able to quantify the return on investment, with demonstrated cost savings to the system, along with measurable improvements in the lives of clients.

IN SUMMARY:  This report reinforces previous findings that were prevalent in the launch of the ten year plan.  It highlights the quantifiable data that says not only are tools such as coordinated support services and provision of housing cheaper than services that just keeping someone alive on the street, they also work to measurably improve a person’s quality of life!


Access the full report at:  HUoS report 2017; Civitas Consulting

PSH Feature: Hope Terrace

Hope Terrace is Supportive Living for people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

FASD is a brain injury that can occur when an unborn baby is exposed to alcohol.  It’s a lifelong disorder with effects that include physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities. These can vary from mild to severe.
(Source: canada.ca; FASD)

According to Ashley Baxter, Manager of Bissell Centre’s FASD programs at Hope Terrace, a prominent feature for those with a stronger disorder is a lack of emotional regulation.  She says we all experience a storm of emotions from time to time; triggered by fear, anger, anxiety, pain or trauma.  Ordinarily, Baxter says, the emotions shoot up from the hippocampus to our reasoning centre, which works like a filter to control our response.  Depending on the person and the severity of their disorder, that filter might not work.  That can result in very strong reactions; a stream of rage and angry words and occasionally a physical acting out will sometimes erupt damaging relationships.  This is of course a source of tension and anxiety for those families and friends struggling to care for a loved one.

Critical to this work of care is committed supporting relationships; especially those strong enough to weather the frequent storms of emotions.  And of course, a stable home situation and access to medications and professional aids go a long way to help a person with FASD find fulfillment and a reasonably stable and meaningful life.

If a person with FASD loses this support and stability their challenge is exponentially harder.  Some end up living on the street and there accumulate a host of other challenges; including trauma, physical health and injury, and addictions to drugs and alcohol as they seek escape from the ongoing pain and struggle.  Helping someone find their way back from this place of anger and despair takes much more than a meal at a soup kitchen.  It requires a stable home, supports, and counseling and a network of committed supporting relationships.  That’s where a place like Hope Terrace comes in.


First opening in January of 2016, Hope Terrace provides permanent supportive housing to twenty three adult (18+) residents with a string of complex challenges, including stronger forms of FASD.  Residents are people with a history of housing instability (homelessness), who may also carry behind them difficult family histories, trauma, and additional mental health challenges (such as oppositional defiance disorder).  Some residents may also struggle with self-harm.

The staff at Hope Terrace are there twenty four-seven to provide stability, support, and care to these residents, according to a model that emphasizes caring relationship.   They are trained to respond to the complex series of needs and challenges, and strive to provide a stable home and community where people can heal and improve their situation.

hope terrace insight-homeless
Photo above by David Bloom


Hope Terrace is a harm reduction facility so residents are allowed to consume alcohol or use drugs in the safety of their home without fear of expulsion.  Baxter notes that this is a privilege most of us enjoy in our own homes and that it provides dignity to people; as opposed to forcing them out onto the street.   “Those seeking refuge in drugs and alcohol do so to try to cope and silence their brain.”  At Hope Terrace, people can be active users and know that those around them understand. If family (especially children) are coming to visit, the staff makes it their regular practice to ensure the resident is sober so that it will be a good visit.

Creating community in the facility is a priority.  A foundational piece of that puzzle is establishing trust, consistency, and honesty as a norm.  Predictable routines and policies ensure that people know that their private details will not be shared, and their space will be honoured.  And they have movie nights, jam sessions, programs, trips to the recreational centre, and other local community events.

Guests are welcomed into the facility as long as they are respectful and follow the rules.  If staff sense that a resident is being taken advantage of (such as friends who tend to come around on payday), they will have a conversation with that resident.  Ultimately, they seek to support positive relationships as supportive community is a need everyone has.


Is Hope Terrace a healthy example of community care?
A critical marker of success is when residents feel connected and safe to talk to the staff, as trust and relationship are critical ingredients to a person’s journey.

As far as examples, Ashley notes that everyone’s stories and situations are very different, so success will look very different for each person.  One person’s success may be finishing high school and looking for a job.  Another’s may be retaining their housing, and slowly becoming healthier.  Certainly, there have been some great indicators.  One person who has never had stable housing has been there for a year and a half; coming home every night!  And they have seen this kind of success fairly broadly, with over fifty percent of their residents coming on board over the last two years settling in for the long term.


Why do people fall away from the program?  Ashley highlights two main reasons:
1. When someone gets physically violent with staff or other residents.  For everyone’s safety, they have to be removed.
2. Difficult roommate situations.  As Hope Terrace is a repurposed apartment complex, nine of the units are two bedroom; requiring two residents to share space.  As emotional deregulation is an issue for many of the residents, living in such close quarters with another does not often go well, so a person will get fed up and walk away from their housing; often back onto the street.


How about the relationship with the local community? 
“For the first year, the local neighbourhood didn’t even know we were there.”   As it was a repurposed apartment and formerly in use by the Terra Centre as home for teen parents and their families, there was no discussion with local neighbours ahead of time, and  after two years, there have not been any concerns raised locally.  There are not too many residential dwellings close by, but there are a few, and some local businesses.   But to date, they have never had a neighbour complain to the police.  Sometimes their residents have called the police, but never local neighbours.  They have only had one concerned neighbour stop in and that was to ask one of the residents to turn down the music in their room.

But there have been some concerns in the local neighbourhood.  As the area is sort of a grey zone with less intensive policing, the Red Alert gang has presence in some of the local houses.  There was a flop house close by that was causing some concern for Hope Terrace residents, but with frequent complaints to the police and SCAN, Hope Terrace staff were able to get it resolved.

Ashley says it is important for residents to feel comfortable out in the community, and not feel “othered.”  Going for a swim at the rec. centre, or for a fire and marshmallows in the park helps people feel comfortable and at home in their community.

Based on an interview with Ashley Baxter, manager of FASD programs at Hope Terrace


To learn more about FASD and how communities can respond well to people with FASD symptoms, please explore the following link for a series of educational sessions: http://fasd.alberta.ca/search.aspx

See the following for another look into the work done by Hope Terrace in the Edmonton Journal: http://edmontonjournal.com/news/insight/hope-terrace-where-success-is-sweet-but-failure-can-break-your-heart

Unpacking the National Housing Strategy; Money and Metrics

Targets and Metrics

  • 530,000 families removed from housing need
  • 300,000 existing housing units repaired and renewed
  • 385,000 households protected from losing an affordable home
  • 100,000 new housing units (60,000 from Co-Investment Fund)
  • 7,000 shelter spaces created or repaired
  • 50,000 households benefit from an expansion of community housing eligibility
  • 300,000 households to receive direct housing subsidy
  • 50% reduction in use of homeless shelters
  • 25% reduction, energy consumption and GHG emissions
  • 20% of new units to meet accessibility standards

Observations:  These targets show a willingness to tackle the challenges of housing affordability and supports from several angles: helping prevent homelessness, renewing existing housing helps, creating new spaces, and moving intentionally away from emergency accommodation (ie. shelters) to stronger and more effective solutions (ie. supportive housing).  The intent seems to be in harmony with efforts currently underway by the City of Edmonton, which seems to be a healthy and well-considered approach.

NHS Targets


Investment Highlights
The NHS describes a total budget of $37 billion dollars in federal funding to support housing and homelessness programs. The funding commitments described in the strategy include:

  • $15.9-billion for a new National Housing Co-Investment Fund
    • $4.7-billion in financial contributions & $11.2-billion in low interest loans
    • Must be supplemented (cost-shared) by Provinces/Territories
  • $8.6-billion for a new Canada Community Housing Initiative in partnership with provinces and territories, and $500 million through a new Federal Community Housing Initiative
  • $4-billion for a new Canada Housing Benefit:
    • To be launched in 2020
    • Up to $2,500 per family per year
    • Assumes $2-billion Federal funds matched by Provincial and Territorial means matching or co-funding
  • $2.2-billion to reduce homelessness:
    • Appears to be a renewal of the existing Homeless Partnership Strategy (HPS) program that is in the midst of a major review that will launch in 2019
  • $300-million in additional federal funding to address housing needs in Canada’s North
  • $241-million for research, data and demonstrations
  • $200-million in Federal lands transferred to housing providers.

Observations:  Some of these dollars will be used to leverage supplementary investments by provinces/territories; so much will depend on the success of these negotiations.  It is wonderful that the federal government is coming to the table with both land and investment dollars in hand.  Now we will look for productive and fruitful conversations at those tables.


NHS vision

To explore the strategy directly, please visit: https://www.placetocallhome.ca/index.cfm

CRIHI thanks staff at the City of Edmonton, Cody Spencer and Daryl Kreuzer for their compiling of numbers and data used in this presentation.

PSH Feature: Westwood Manor

Innovative Efforts Helping People Heal

Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) is a frontline concern in our city; with close to one thousand new units desperately needed.  Political backing and funding are lining up at all three levels of government to fill this critical gap in our response to prevent and end homelessness.  These facilities are meaningful and effective solutions; provide safe and supportive community for people carrying some of the most difficult and complex burdens; barriers that continually jeopardize their health and their ability to retain work and housing.  For these folks, a PSH facility is a space to find healing, hope and community.

But as efforts ramp up to build these facilities, questions abound: What might this look like?  How will it fit into the local neighbourhood?  What will be the impact be on the local community?


Today’s PSH story feature is Westwood Manor; located in the Westwood community, east of the old municipal airport.  A few years ago, the Mustard Seed purchased and renovated a small ageing apartment building in the Westwood Community.  It was fairly run down, and an eyesore in this mature neighbourhood.   Today, this newly renovated facility is home and supportive community for twenty people with a range of complex needs, including drug and alcohol addictions, trauma and mental health barriers like schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and chronic depression.

Westwood Manor is rated as a fairly high acuity PSH.  That means they have some higher needs folks living there.  As with all PSH, supports are located on-site; including 24-hour staffing.  Westwood Manor is also a harm-reduction facility, which means that a person’s housing is not dependent on maintaining their sobriety or abstinence.  Tenants have access to sterilized needles and other supplies that will allow them to use safely.

Mustard Seed owns the building, but staffing ratios and operating dollars come from Homeward Trust, with people referred through the Coordinated Access System; that links all such efforts across Edmonton.

Westwood kitchen
A Kitchen Space in one of the apartments

A priority in this facility is the creation of intentional community for their residents; not only within the facility but in the local neighbourhood as well.  The lack of community and healthy relationship has long been recognized as a root cause of both addiction and mental health challenges.  Landon Hildebrand, the facility manager notes that they have seen exciting change already, with significant health improvements.  He says, “Joy, community, attachment…when we provide these things, the addictions have less appeal.””

He notes that mental health concerns are present in every community, but are more raw and hyper-realized in the most vulnerable.  The ability to hide it is just not there.

Their efforts at providing community include building a relationship with local neighbours.  Westwood staff approached the Westwood Community League to learn about getting more involved, and they were welcomed with open arms.  The Community League provided them with a family membership to cover all their residents, and now they are able to participate as volunteers and as full members in community league gatherings.

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Westwood Manor staff also supported the creation of a resident’s committee (much like a condo board) that had authority to consider and respond to concerns.  Staff agreed to take all new policy or rule changes to this committee for their consideration.  This new way of doing things changed how residents related to staff and how they thought about their home.  It prompted a sense of ownership and responsibility in the facility; prompting greater care for the space, the grounds, and each other.  They want their home to be a warm, safe, and healthy environment.  Residents in this kind of leadership role have even helped resolve interpersonal conflicts.  It’s been a win, win, win for everyone!   Landon credits the success of this kind of approach as a direct counter to the myth that people in PSH can’t make good decisions.  “The more authority and leadership we give to our folks, the better they do.”

Westwood’s community-building efforts are a little tricky on some fronts, particularly as they have very little in the way of gathering space to hang out together.  When a suite is empty, the staff will often transform it into a place to hang out, and the office is one place people stop in to chat constantly.  They could also use a secure space where they can have those private and secure conversations, coaching, training, and supports.

But things get much easier in the summer, when they can host outdoor BBQs and feasts, and invite the neighbours.  They also plan to start a community garden this coming year that they hope will promote natural connection between residents and local neighbours.

Is their approach successful?  Landon shares the story of one gentleman whose almost daily ritual was being out panhandling for long hours, stuck in alcohol and substances.  He would get dropped off by EPS almost daily and carried back to his unit.  Now he is there at 3:00 everyday to hang out with the staff during shift change; so he can chat with both those going out and those coming in.  He’s also working to start a local snow shovelling business, and because he is a community league member is able to share some of his posters on the local bulletin board and in the community hall.

Certainly not everyone succeeds, and evictions happen occasionally.  Concerns around safety and difficult behaviors are usually the reason someone has to be removed.  Unfortunately, there are not many places for people to go if they are evicted.  The shortage of PSH in Edmonton means that few facilities are available and equipped to manage and care for people with more difficult behaviors.


Westwood Manor’s story illustrates the value and effectiveness of Permanent Supportive Housing as a meaningful and effective solution.  She provides a place of healing, home, safety and stability for some of our most vulnerable people.  And the efforts by her residents and staff are a lesson in the powerful need we all have for a community where we participate and can take responsibility in shaping.

Based on an Interview with Landon Hildebrand, A Registered Psychologist, Serving as Director of Housing and Clinic development.

Housing as a Human Right?

For the first time on November 22, 2017 the Government of Canada formally began speaking about housing as a human right.  While this has been recognized by the international community for some time, this marked an important recognition of the obligation we have as a country to ensure everyone has a safe and decent place to call home.

To unpack some of the implications and meaning of this recognition, I sat down with Jim Gurnett, a longtime housing advocate and promoter of housing as a human right.  Here’s some of what he shared with me:

“Human rights are always fuzzy and hard to pin down.  All human rights today are based on UN declarations.  The problem is that they don’t compel any nations to do something.  They simply state an obligation.”

“With housing it gets more complicated.  The rights language gives us a way of thinking about housing, but not a black and white pathway to answers about what governments or communities can do.  Even if Canada signs on to this obligation, what are the measurables of whether that right is being satisfied or not?  The amount of money you have as a state can make it impossible to do much.”

“It also doesn’t directly feed into legal obligation.  For example, Ontario courts have noted of some other rights, that even if something is a right, it’s not something we can enforce.  A legal obligation can materialize if there becomes Canadian legislation to enforce housing as a right.  Our Prime Minister hinted at that possibility in his November 22 announcement, but it was very vague.  Moving forward, the Government will be considering what that might mean.  Currently there is no legisltation in action that you could bring to the human rights commission to say ‘my right to housing has been violated.'”

“But here’s what I like about it.  It makes us uncomfortable with the fact that some people don’t have this basic need met, and gets us exploring how we can work to resolve that.  It gets us talking about the fact that we are not doing a good job.  If a nation has homelessness, it is not doing enough.  It gets us talking together about why some people don’t have the help they need.”

As I concluded this conversation with Jim, I came to the understanding that human rights language serves to remind us of our obligations as citizens of earth; obligations that the world has said together are critical and necessary.  Obligation to protect freedom of speech and religion, peaceful assembly and association, to combat slavery, and to provide each other with basic needs like food, water and yes, adequate housing (Article 25 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Interview by Mike Van Boom, CRIHI Housing Ambassador