Regina to put Housing First in strategy

Natascia Lypny (Leader Post) - April 25, 2014


Regina is signing on to the federal government's Housing First strategy in an attempt to better understand the city's homelessness problem and co-ordinate services to get more people off the street.


The approach encourages providing stable housing, then dealing with the other issues, like substance abuse or mental health problems, second. Its proponents argue that Housing First lends itself to longer-term solutions and individualized assistance, with closer monitoring to avoid re-entering homelessness.


Deanna Elias-Henry agrees that the foremost concern of homeless people is stable housing. In her role as executive director for the local YWCA, she witnesses how "being homeless is a full-time job."


"It's really difficult to move any farther unless you've got some sort of stability in your life, and once you have that stability, then people in the community, agencies, whoever needs to support you staying in that home can actually work with you so that you don't end up in that homelessness situation again," she said.


The Housing First approach is part of the federal government's work with municipalities through the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. It was renewed for another five years at the beginning of April. Regina will see $1.1 million per year over that time period to implement its homelessness prevention and reduction goals.


"You can't fix what you can't measure, and right now we need to measure the extent of homelessness in the city," said Mayor Michael Fougere.


An application for federal funding associated with Housing First lists three main priorities: improving data collection to quantify the homelessness problem; developing education around Housing First; and getting a sense of the capital needs associated with community-based homelessness services, like shelters.


"Regina can benefit from knowing the extent of the problem but also knowing the extent of the solutions," said Elias-Henry.


A report that went before the Mayor's Housing Commission on Thursday presents preliminary suggestions as to how Housing First could be applied in Regina. They were drawn from community consultations that engaged, among many stakeholders, the homeless.


Using improved data collection, the city could identify "priority populations" for Housing First, such as long-term shelter users. It could also target the highest need users with the highest funded services.


Specialized approaches would decrease homelessness recidivism and guide people toward community inclusion. So, too, would more structured collaboration between service providers and landlords.


"I think what is key and fundamentally inherent in all of those recommendations is that from the service delivery perspective, there has to be much better co-ordination so that people aren't falling between the cracks, that we aren't tripping over each other, that everybody's working to the same goal," said Elias-Henry.


Tracking these goals and measuring client outcomes would also serve to perfect the system in the long run.


Fougere cautions that in order for Housing First to be successful, the federal government needs to stay on board.


"The federal government has removed itself from affordable housing or is trying to do that and we hope they don't download homelessness as an issue to municipalities because we'd be very concerned about that," he said, "because we could not resolve the issue ourselves."


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