It’s something voters want, all it takes is political will.
Anyone who knows him knew Chris* didn’t belong in a halfway house. In his late twenties and on the autism spectrum – he didn’t have many options. To live independently he needed affordable, supportive housing, a rare commodity in Calgary. Chris wound up rooming with men fresh out of prison. It wasn’t safe or appropriate for the funny and intelligent, but vulnerable young man.
This is one of the thousands of stories of Calgarians who are struggling to find affordable housing, and it’s something federal politicians need to make a major priority this election season.
A majority of Canadians agree. In a Nanos poll released in August, 84% of Canadians support investing in new affordable housing. 70% consider it an urgent priority to end homelessness. Political door-knockers say it’s coming up frequently among constituents.
In Calgary, there are over 3000 people experiencing homelessness on any given day, and there are thousands more just one paycheck away from losing their homes. 1/3 Canadian tenants are worried about making rent each month.
The major political parties are clearly aware of the urgency of the issue. The Liberals, Conservatives, and the NDP are all proposing spending billions on the construction and renovation of new homes and limiting foreign investment in residential property.
Even the many dubious political promises made won’t satisfy the current needs.
Calgary has a lot of catching up to do. We’re building about 300 new units of affordable housing per year as a city, while demand grows by about 2000 units. As a housing provider, HomeSpace is building as fast as we can. But there’s a limit to what we can do without even more powerful political and financial support.
This lack of foresight when it comes to affordable housing comes at massive human and financial costs.
Being homeless is wildly expensive, not just for the individual, but for society. People experiencing homelessness rely heavily on social services, in particular healthcare.
An emergency room “frequent flyer” can rack up staggering costs for hospitals and weighs down the healthcare system. A preventable problem that takes on new urgency during a pandemic where our health care system is overloaded and burnt-out.
Consider these numbers: the average “highest need” user of affordable housing with wrap-around supports costs the state $22,257. The average “highest need” user of social services who is homeless costs the state a whopping $340,000. Investing in affordable housing saves us all money.
For Chris, affordable housing at our downtown building “Legacy on 5th” gave him a safe, appropriate place to call home, surrounded by young people with similar needs and experiences. He has wrap-around supports and is thriving. He’s now taking classes part-time at Mount Royal University.
Without access to affordable housing and program supports Chris would still be in a halfway house and countless others like him are in much more dangerous circumstances. Surviving on the streets or in housing unsuitable for their age or abilities.
The first step in stabilizing the life of a person experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity is a safe affordable home. Only from there can a person address other needs such as employment, trauma, addiction, or health issues.
We need our next political leadership to invest in affordable housing at rates we haven’t seen in our lifetime. This election please push your newly elected officials to lead with affordable housing at top of mind.
Bernadette Majdell is the CEO of HomeSpace in Calgary, a leader in affordable housing development.
* Name has been changed to protect resident’s privacy