Local group not surprised by launch of national homelessness strategy

Not-for-profits working towards developing Coordinated Access System, required under new strategy

Wally Czech talks about a coordinated access system at the Prince Albert library on March 7, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

The federal government has launched its new homelessness strategy and is giving communities three years to introduce new coordinated access systems in order to qualify for support.

Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy was launched in Gatineau, Que. on April 1.

“Every Canadian deserves a safe and affordable place to call home. Yet, every day, vulnerable Canadians experience homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless,” the government said in a press release.

“Government of Canada is taking action to help those in need and make a real impact to reduce homelessness across Canada.”

The new strategy was announced last June and replaces the existing Homelessness Partnering Strategy. It supports the National Housing Strategy and the government’s own goal to reduce chronic homelessness nationally by 50 per cent by the 2027-28 fiscal year.

The news didn’t come as a surprise to Brian Howell of River Bank Development Corporation.

‘We’ve been kept well-informed of what they were thinking of,” he said.

“As much as possible, we were aware of the direction that the government was embarking on with coordinated access and some of the other aspects of Reaching Home.”

The new strategy will deliver funding directly to municipalities and local service providers. It will also reach up to six new communities through an open and transparent process which is currently underway. The government is currently working with communities to develop and deliver data-driven systems with clear outcomes. The new outcomes-based approach also comes with the removal of all Housing First targets, which the government says will keep decision making local and give communities greater flexibility to address local priorities.

While Housing First has proven to reduce homelessness, stakeholder and community partners told the government that they needed more flexibility in how funding could be used. The new program is designed to allow this.

Included with this is the requirement that communities develop a Coordinated Access System to prioritize individuals most in need of supports across an entire community. The federal government is helping communities implement this system, and a transition period is in place to ensure continuity as communities switch to the new program.

Prince Albert began work on developing a Coordinated Access System (CAS) in early March. Wally Czech from the Canadian Association to End Homelessness, the organization funded by the government to provide CAS training, presented to community groups about what the model intends to do. He then helped facilitate a smaller discussion with the groups who will be leading implementation of the CAS.

“The focus here is to develop a homelessness system of care,” Howell said back in March.

“Rather than having these programs off on their own all the time, you’ve got a system where people are treated the same way when they come in, regardless of where they come in, and get the same level of service based on their needs, regardless of who they are or where they are. That’s the ultimate objective.”

Since then, Howell said, local agencies have continued their work on creating a CAS.

‘(After the presentation) we spent the next day and a half covering elements of a coordinated access system, including governance, information sharing, implementation of a standardized intake and assessment process and just generally working to develop a system of care for homeless individuals and families within our community” he said.

“it’s still at a very preliminary stage, but the discussions have begun.”

Howell reiterated that he’s confident the community can come together and make the new model work.

“I look forward to working with the community over the next couple of years to get this into place,” he said.

‘I think we’ll find a local solution and develop an approach that works well in oPinrce Albert, a system that better serves our community, and especially the homeless people in it.