Debating an end to homelessness

City of Prince Albert. -- Herald file photo.

Is it possible to eradicate homelessness in Prince Albert and if so, when and how quickly?

That was the subject up for debate as city councillors considered, and ultimately passed, a motion to eliminate homelessness in the city by 2025.

Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha brought forward the motion at Monday’s council meeting. It calls for the Community Services Advisory Committee to come up with a report and invite local stakeholders to create a task group to combat the issue.

He said homelessness is a major cause for concern in Prince Albert, and setting a deadline to eradicate it would help spur some action.

“If we’re not going to set a goal for ourselves in this, chances are we’re going to continue to miss and have to deal with homelessness,” he said. “We need to have a date that is realistic.”

Botha said he’s reviewed previous Prince Albert housing plans, like the Prince Albert Community Plan on Homelessness: 2011-2014, as well as the Prince Albert Homelessness Partnering Strategy Community Plan for 2014-2019.

Although he said he doesn’t discount the work that’s already being done in the community, Botha wants Prince Albert to look to communities like Lethbridge or Medicine Hat for inspiration.

In 2009, Medicine Hat implemented a Housing First program, which found homes for more than 1,000 people over the next seven years. In 2015, the city announced that it had ended homelessness, with no one in the city spending more than 10 days on the streets or in emergency shelters.

The City of Lethbridge followed with their own five-year plan to end homelessness, which officially began in 2015.

Botha said those two cities already have projects in place, and they could serve as inspiration for a plan for Prince Albert.

“This plan would hopefully give us a proposal or a series of tasks that are achievable where we can start ticking the boxes,” he told city council.

While Botha’s motion did receive strong support from Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards, there was some opposition.

Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick said he disliked the idea of putting a timeline on ending homelessness, suggesting instead that any future plan be open-ended.

Both Ogrodnick and Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski were also concerned about neglecting local community groups who were already committed to solving the problem.

Ogrodnick added that he supports the idea of eradicating homelessness, but wanted more local input.

“Rather than duplicating something that’s already being done, let’s look at bringing all of these community groups together,” he said during the council debate.

Ward 7 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick also questioned just how successful Lethbridge and Medicine Hat had been at eliminating homelessness.

“I’ve worked in the Lethbridge, Medicine Hat area,” he said. “They reduced it. They didn’t eradicate it. I’m more of a realist.”

According to a Prince Albert Winter Homeless Count conducted in March 2015, at any given time there are an estimated 273 individuals who are homeless in Prince Albert. That number includes people who are sleeping on the streets, in shelters, in apartment hallways and abandoned vehicles, or staying with friends.

Common reasons for homelessness in Prince Albert include addiction, low-income, family breakdowns, lack of life skills and lack of affordable housing.

According to the count, the average homeless individual in Prince Albert is between the ages of 25-34, and identifies as First Nations.

@kerr_jas •