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Medicine Hat Homelessness Could Reach Its End This Year

Promising to end homelessness is nothing new. But Medicine Hat is following through.

Promising to end homelessness is nothing new.

The City of Vancouver fell short of its mark after promising an end to homelessness by this year.

A small city in Alberta, meanwhile, looks to be much closer.

The City of Medicine Hat, population 61,000, made a goal to put a stop to homelessness by March 2015, as part of a five-year plan.

It's not quite there, but Mayor Ted Clugston told The Calgary Herald that the goal could be met by the end of the year.

Its path to that goal is a "Housing First" strategy that commits the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society (MHCHS) to finding someone a place to live within 10 days of learning they're homeless.

The fiscally-conservative Clugston converted to the plan after resisting it for years. The MHCHS spent six years trying to convince him, and now he feels the plan makes financial sense, CBC News reported.

"If you can get somebody off the street, it saves the emergency room visits, it saves the police, it saves the justice system — and so when you add up all those extra costs ... you can buy a lot of housing for that amount of money," Clugston told the network.

Alberta's Ministry of Human Services says that supports for chronically homeless people can cost over $100,000 per year, taking into account justice, health and emergency services. Housing First costs less than $35,000 a year, it says.

The strategy, whose official period in Medicine Hat was from April 2009 to March 2015, saw 885 homeless people find a place to live in the city.

A MHCHS report from January 2014 noted progress in the form of lower shelter use and more homeless people finding housing.

Clugston told the Herald that the number of people housed is "almost 1,000 out of 61,000."

"That'd be the equivalent of Calgary housing 20,000 people," he said.

But Medicine Hat isn't Alberta's only community that has committed to ending homelessness through the "Housing First" approach.

Also involved in the fight are the Calgary Homeless Foundation, the City of Lethbridge, Homeward Trust Edmonton, the City of Grande Prairie, the City of Red Deer, and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (which includes Fort McMurray).

A 2014 point-in-time homeless count found that 6,663 people are experiencing homelessness in all seven cities, a 16 per cent drop since 2008.

Here's an infographic showing the results of the 2014 homeless count.

South of the border, Utah is executing a similar Housing First strategy. In a testament to the program's effectiveness, the number of people living on the streets has been reduced by almost 75 per cent since 2005, according to Business Insider.

By giving homeless people access to no-strings-attached housing, the state now boasts fewer than 300 homeless people and says, like Medicine Hat, homelessness will likely be eliminated by the end of 2015

(Image of Medicine Hat via Flickr user RPAP Communications/License)

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