Regina should make Housing First strategy a priority in 2017

Here's a letter to the editor I wrote about Housing First in Regina (Leader Post, January 5, 2017).

The LP’s coverage of Housing First success stories reminds us that an end to homelessness is possible.

Currently, the HF initiative is administered by the YMCA with around $400,000 a year, or 40 per cent of the total funding it receives from the federal government for homelessness. From there, groups like Phoenix Residential Society, the YWCA and Street Culture tap into these resources to offer essential front-line services.

In Alberta, HF was successfully applied in several major cities. Medicine Hat made headlines by committing to end homelessness, which it accomplished in 2015. Of course, that city annually receives about $2.9 million from the Alberta government and about $500,000 from the feds. Even though the program is run at arm’s length from the city through the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society, civic leadership helped to set the stage for success. By comparison, our province provides Housing First with no direct financial support.

The City of Regina has responded to homelessness and affordability by helping to finance the construction of low-cost housing. But with a changing housing market it might be time to consider shifting some of these resources directly into supporting HF. We, as a city, could make headlines by helping the YMCA reach a target of $7 million — the estimated cost of providing housing to Regina’s homeless population.

From there, savings can be realized in our health care system, policing, justice system and other institutions that currently shoulder the much greater cost of allowing homelessness to exist.

This should be a civic priority in 2017.