When many people hear the word “homelessness” it may bring to mind people curled up on sidewalks, stretched out on a park bench or perhaps living in a makeshift shanty in a back alley. Though situations like these are real, it’s not seen as much in the rural areas of Alberta.
Doug Griffiths, former MLA of Battle River-Wainwright and co-author of 13 Ways to Kill Your Community, would like to broaden the public’s idea of what homelessness is and show them that it’s a problem not just in urban centres, but all throughout the province.
“It’s actually quite common in rural Alberta, but you wind up with people who end up on friends’ couches, they move back into their parent’s place or they’re living with their aunts and uncles,” said Griffiths. “It takes on a different form, so most people don’t think there’s a problem with homelessness because they don’t see the people on the park bench or curled up on main street. But in reality, homelessness is just as common in rural Alberta as it is in the cities.”
He says because Alberta is known for having a low unemployment rate and good paying jobs, that many figure there is little concern for homelessness being an issue. Griffiths thinks this is not the case and that instead the rising economy has created a lot of what he calls the “working poor.” These are people who are employed, but stay with neighbours, relatives or friends because they can’t afford a place of their own.
These aren’t just young people, but also grown adults, who, because the general wealth of the province and resulting rise in housing costs, can’t meet up with rents or mortgages because they simply aren’t making as much money as the majority of citizens.
“It leaves them homeless,” said Griffiths. “If a person can’t find a home in your community that suits their needs, that’s a situation a community needs to address too and that’s another form of homelessness.
“If the seniors can’t find appropriate housing because they don’t want a giant house with a three-car garage and eight bedrooms, they’re looking for senior-appropriate housing and they can’t find it. They wind up moving to Camrose or to Warman, Sask. or they move to Phoenix, Ariz. They’re still homeless, that’s why they had to leave your community.”
Griffiths says this form of homelessness, where there is a lack of appropriate housing for a given demographic, hurts communities because people are forced to move to a town that can accommodate their needs. He said housing is central in building a strong community and encourages people to think of not just homelessness, but housing in general.
Leaders need to assess whether or not their community is addressing housing needs across the board because if they aren’t, residents will trickle out, which will hurt the local economy.
See “Homelessness,” Page 14
Griffiths says this form of homelessness, where there is a lack of appropriate housing for a given demographic, hurts communities because people are forced to move to a town that can accommodate their needs. Housing is central in building a strong community and he encourages people to think of not just homelessness but housing in general.
Community leaders need to assess whether or not their community is addressing housing needs across the board because if they aren’t, residents will trickle out, which will hurt the local economy.
“Because if they’re not (assessing housing needs), their seniors will leave, their youth will leave, the young families will leave and the people who can’t afford a house will leave. It effects the prosperity of their community if you don’t address the housing challenges,” he said.
He raises the point that it’s not only about affordable housing but diversity of housing to accommodate the different types of people that make up a community. This problem falls on the shoulders of not just the municipality but groups like not-for-profits and businesses as well, taking a collective effort to solve the problem.
Using the city of Lethbridge as an example, who have come up with a vigorous plan called “Bringing Lethbridge Home”, they’ve stepped up to put an end to homelessness. He says their strategy and success happened because the community came together to look at the issue. Combining the municipality, economic authority, not-for-profits, businesses and public is what made it a success.
“It’s got to be a business that’s trying to attract some new employees because they’re expanding. If they’re attracting new employees but those employees don’t have anywhere to live, or the right type of housing for young families, or they’re not near a school, they’re not going to be able to attract the right type of employees,” he said.
“If you’ve got young families in general that want to open up a business but they don’t have any housing that’s near a school or recreation facilities, or something that’s in their cost range, it becomes one of those fundamental issues that’s the responsibility of everyone who is trying to grow a prosperous community.”