From visit to visit, outreach workers want to build a relationship with people living rough. Through building a relationship you get to know the people and what they require.
A Place to Call Home: Edmonton’s Updated Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness lays out a variety of goals and action plans with the aim of ending and preventing homelessness in the City of Edmonton.
The first goal of the Plan is, End Chronic and Episodic Homelessness. The actions to achieve this goal are listed below:
1. Enhance the focus of crisis response services and facilities on permanent housing outcomes
2. Continue to evolve Housing First Programs for Maximum Impact
3. Develop permanent supportive housing and affordable housing across all neighbourhoods
The targets set to achieve the goal of ending chronic and episodic homelessness involve having all rough sleepers engaged through Coordinated Access and assertive outreach by 2018. The Plan also makes the following target: by 2020, no one staying in a shelter or sleeping rough will experience chronic homelessness (Homeward Trust, 2017). The purpose of this article is to determine how these two targets focusing on rough sleepers can become a reality by speaking with those who engage with this population on a daily basis.
2016 Homeless Count
According to the 2016 Homeless Count coordinated by Homeward Trust, out of the 1,753 individuals counted as experiencing homelessness, a total of 187 were classified as unsheltered. Out of these, 97 people were recorded as living in a makeshift shelter, 12 people in a vehicle, and 11 in another unsheltered location unfit for human habitation (Homeward Trust Edmonton, 2016).
Boyle Street Community Services
Boyle Street Community Services’ outreach workers actively seek out vulnerable Edmontonians who may not have access to the programs. Outreach workers strive to find people in need, being those living in parks or on the street to help connect them to needed resources and supports. The organization provides basic needs such as food, housing, clothing, and medical support.
The outreach services include downtown outreach that links those living rough with programs. In addition, there is a city-wide outreach team that works with businesses, faith communities, and many others to help homeless individuals find affordable and adequate housing. In addition, the organization has a winter warming bus that runs from November to May. It is stocked with blankets and soup and actively seeks out the homeless in the City of Edmonton to provide crucial support during the winter months (Boyle Street Community Services, n.d.).
In 2016, Executive Director Julian Daly explained how his organization’s street outreach team worked with over 800 individuals sleeping outside in the river valley and city parks. Daly and colleagues have seen an increase of 43% of individuals camping in the river valley. Similarly, the number of people who use Boyle Street as their mailing address because they do not have a fixed address and are likely homeless has increased from 1,600 in 2015 to 2,220 in 2016 (Boyle Street Community Services, 2016).
How to reach rough sleepers in Edmonton.
An interview was conducted on August 23, 2017 with Doug Cooke, the Team Lead for Street Outreach at Boyle Street Community Services
Question 1: What is a rough sleeper?
“A rough sleeper is a homeless individual who sleeps outside, under tarps or tents, or those who make some form of shelter out of whatever materials they can find.”
Question 2: How does Boyle Street Community Services engage with rough sleepers?
“Street outreach workers make sure the people are in good shape, that they are not under medical distress and they are not experiencing any form of crisis at that moment. From visit to visit, outreach workers want to build a relationship with people living rough. Through building a relationship you get to know the people and what they require. After the first introduction, you may get a first name. When you start assisting someone, you can get them into medical appointments or getting them onto income support or introducing them into a housing program. The first goal is building a relationship and building trust.”
Question 3) What needs to be improved upon for the targets related to rough sleepers to be achieved?
“First having more outreach workers doing their job. It is also more about the accessibility of places to put people. There is a great push of getting people out of shelters and the river valley, but a lot of those people often have higher needs that will require some assistance with living, like someone checking in on them regularly to ensure they are keeping their apartments clean. There needs to be more funding for more apartments and programs that offer assistance and support beyond getting them a place to stay, but also ensuring they know how to take care of themselves, some people need this follow up support. Funding for affordable and supportive housing is lacking in addition to programs that help those who are living rough with mental health issues.”
For the targets outlined above to be achieved, there must be more directed funding into affordable and supportive housing models that will assist those previously sleeping rough to maintain their housing and to live independently. Ensuring that the most vulnerable Edmontonians do not experience chronic homelessness involves relationship building and forming connections based on respect, compassion, and patience. Funding for affordable and supportive housing needs to be improved upon to support more assisted living situations for those with more complex needs who require daily support.
By Heather Curtis, Research Coordinator
Edmonton Social Planning Council