We Can End Homelessness In Abbotsford

By James W. Breckenridge. It is damn frustrating, damn annoying and damning. Philip Mangano, the US homeless czar at the time, spoke in Abbotsford in May of 2007 about ending homelessness. If at that time politicians had asked me to end homelessness in Abbotsford [and BC] we would have today, February 2015, have ended homelessness as we know it and have gained knowledge and experience applicable to other issues.

I can make that statement with confidence because a body of evidence and research exists that attests to the truth of that statement. Proof of sufficient substance that the Alberta government put up $285 million dollars to fund Housing First and decided that the only approach to ending homelessness they will fund is Housing First.

Not only does research and evidence demonstrate the effectiveness of Housing First in addressing homelessness, it is the only approach research and evidence shows to be effective in ending homelessness.

Since it was announced in 2008 I have been awaiting the results of the research demonstration Housing First project. I recently not only had the opportunity to review the results of the ‘At Home/Chez Soi’ Mental Health and Homelessness Demonstration Project, but to review the results with some of those responsible for conducting the project for the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

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In 2008, the Government of Canada allocated $110 million to the MHCC to undertake a research demonstration project on mental health and homelessness. The result? At Home/Chez Soi, a four-year project in five cities that aimed to provide practical, meaningful support to Canadians experiencing homelessness and mental health problems.

Released in April 2014, the National At Home/Chez Soi Final Report demonstrates that Housing First works to rapidly end homelessness for people experiencing mental illness, and can be effectively implemented in cities of different size and different cultural contexts.

I was also able to speak with someone from Lethbridge Alberta, someone whose boss had been in Abbotsford in 2014 speaking about what was going on in Lethbridge and Alberta and the Alberta government’s commitment to and funding of Housing First.

Which raises the question of “Why the pointless, time wasting exercise known as the Abbotsford Homeless Task Force?”

Meeting someone from Lethbridge who is working on ending homelessness in Alberta means:

1. You know about the Alberta government’s commitment to Housing First as the only approach to homelessness and of the Alberta government’s $285 million investment in Housing First.

2. You know about the CMHC’s At Home/Chez Soi’ Mental Health and Homelessness Demonstration Project and its results because the Project is why the Alberta government is committed to Housing First, that Lethbridge has achieved the results it has and why the speaker from Lethbridge has the job they do.

3. The results of the Demonstration were so impressive the Federal Government committed $millions$ more to getting Housing First up and running across Canada.

4. That Vancouver was one of the five demonstration sites across Canada, together with Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Moncton. The experience and expertise gained during the research project is providing the foundation for using Housing First to end homelessness in Vancouver.

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Why, having heard from and spoken with the person in charge of ending homelessness in Lethbridge Alberta did Abbotsford City Council create the Abbotsford Homeless Task Force? Particularly in the format and with the mission it did?

Why did the Task Force come up with such a namby-pamby Report – HOW did it come up with such a namby-pamby Report?

One of the many worthwhile results and benefits of the Project was an online tool kit [ http://www.housingfirsttoolkit.ca/ ] that will walk a community through establishing and using Housing First to end homelessness in the community.

Why then did we get the vague pointless report the Abbotsford Homeless Task Force produced?

If we had to have, for whatever unfathomable reason, an Abbotsford Homeless Task Force why did the Task Force not use the tool kit and set out what we need to do to end homelessness in Abbotsford and how the community would accomplish the goal of ending homelessness in Abbotsford.

Why did the Abbotsford Homeless Task Force come up with, in keeping with the rest of the Report, the pointless recommendation to hire some kind of homeless guru, a pied piper of the homeless who would somehow solve homelessness in Abbotsford. Without direction or even vague suggestions from the Task Force as to how this might be accomplished?

Why is Abbotsford City Hall rushing blindly to fill this position for which no there are no set out duties, reasonable guidelines, responsibilities or reporting path?

If the Task Force was going to recommend the City of Abbotsford spend $100,000 per year on dealing with homelessness why recommend the City waste the $100,000?

If the City truly wants to end homelessness in Abbotsford – and the behaviours of Abbotsford City Hall make that a questionable assumption at this point – I would have the City use that money to engage the consulting services of Mr. Cameron Keller.

Mr. Keller was one of those whose job it was to oversee the demonstration project from beginning to end. Which included setting up and providing Housing First Services over the years of the project, as well the efforts to provide sustainability for housing first in the communities in the study after the study ended.

At the end of the project Mr. Keller set up a consulting practice to provide guidance to communities on using Housing First to end homelessness in the community. His expertise can walk a community through using the tool kit to design and implement Housing First for the community. His expertise also provides knowledge of obstacles and how to deal with these barriers.

It may well be that Mr. Keller is the most valuable tool to come out of the demonstration project.

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The review of the study results also provided me the opportunity to hear Mr. Keller speak on the project, its implementation and the outcomes. It also provided the opportunity to speak with Mr. Keller.

If I was in charge of ending homelessness in Abbotsford or a member of city council I would be having council take whatever action or actions were necessary to toss out the wasteful concept of the homeless guru and instead hire Mr. Keller as a consultant to guide Abbotsford through creating and implementing its plan to end homelessness in Abbotsford.

We could have started ending homelessness in Abbotsford in 2007 and chose not to.

We could have a plan in place on how we are going to end homelessness in Abbotsford and be implementing it at this point in time. Instead Abbotsford chose to create yet another barrier to ending homelessness in Abbotsford – the Abbotsford Homeless Task Force.

Right now there exists a golden opportunity to end homelessness in Abbotsford within 10 years, if we choose to end homelessness in Abbotsford.

What is required to achieve the goal of ending homelessness in Abbotsford, what has always been required, is that we START.

We can start on and be successful at ending homelessness in Abbotsford through the Mayor – with the support of council – simply picking up the phone ASAP and hiring Mr Keller.

My background is in accounting, business, creating, growing and managing business; my personal experience with homelessness and my [extremely frustrating] experience with trying to get governments of all levels to act rationally and on the evidence have resulted in knowledge of what is required to successfully help people get – and more importantly stay over the long term – housed.

I opposed and continue to oppose wasting $100,000 on a homeless guru because I do not see this leading to an end of homelessness in Abbotsford.

But as an advocate for the homeless in Abbotsford, as a concerned citizen, as a person who aspires to be a decent human being I call upon our Mayor and Council to START to end homelessness in Abbotsford by hiring Mr. Keller. If Abbotsford has to hire a homeless guru let us hire one who will ensure our success in ending homelessness in Abbotsford.

I urge the citizens of Abbotsford to support ending homelessness in Abbotsford, to support obtaining the services of Mr. Keller to provide a tool – a proven tool – to implement Housing First in Abbotsford and to reach out to our mayor and council to urge them to end homelessness in Abbotsford.

Mayor Henry Braun? Councillor Les Barkman? Councillor Sandy Blue? Councillor Kelly Chahal? Councillor Brenda Falk? Councillor Moe Gill? Councillor Dave Loewen? Councillor Patricia Ross? Councillor Ross Siemens?

James W Breckenridge

dedicated to nonconformity and creative maladjustment

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