How a Canadian City Ended Homelessness With a Simple Idea
Everyone deserves a home
When Medicine Hat, a city in southern Alberta, Canada, pledged to put an end to homeless in 2009, there were many sceptics who thought it couldn't be done. A good six years later, the city says it has fulfilled its promise with the help of a surprisingly simple idea: giving every person living on the streets a home with no strings attached.
While traditional housing programs ask that prospective participants get clean and seek psychological treatment before being admitted into the system, the Housing First approach doesn't make any of these demands. Whoever is in need of a permanent place to stay will get help, no matter what their circumstances are. "We take the stance that people are worthy of a home and it is a fundamental human right to have shelter and a roof over one's head," Jamie Rogers, who ran the Housing First program in Medicine Hat told the BBC. "Of course it is recovery-oriented, and we help and support people in making different choices in their life, but we don't withhold housing because of who they choose to be."
Since April 2009, the community of about 64,000 collectively housed 1,013 individuals; 705 adults and 308 children. Apart from the obvious success of getting people of the street, Housing First also brought with it a number of unexpected positive effects. In Medicine Hat, emergency room visits and run ins with police have dropped while at the same time court appearances went up. Once people felt that somebody cared about them and they mustered up the neccessary motivation to begin dealing with their past in a positive way.
Medicine Hat didn't just implement Housing First (which is also being used in other cities with varying levels of success) but rather changed its whole approach to homelessness. Rather than building, or relying only on subsidized housing, the city built a relationship of trust with landlords, property management companies, and local communities as a whole. Fear and prejudice towards the homeless was replaced by the realization that they are simply people down on their luck and nowadays landlords call up city hall to offer their apartments to the program.
Medicine Hat's inspiring success proves to us all that if we put aside our fears and differences and instead come together as a community, nothing is impossible.
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