OTTAWA — An Alberta city has become the first in the country to have ended chronic homelessness, just as municipal leaders push the federal government to help do the same countrywide.
Medicine Hat first said in 2015 that it had ended homelessness in its city, but that was based on its own standards because none existed nationally at the time.
That has changed, and Wednesday the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness said Medicine Hat is now at what's called "functional zero," meaning there are no more than three people experiencing chronic homelessness in a community for three straight months.
Jaime Rogers with the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society said what has helped is an integrated system in the city where anyone who accesses one service immediately gets added to a central list so they can quickly get supports and be housed.
She said the work in Medicine Hat could easily be replicated in other cities.
"It is possible, it is doable," said Rogers, the society's manager of homeless and housing development, in an interview.
"Every time we had a setback, we kept pushing forward because at the end of the day, every human being is worthy of a home and that is our social responsibility."
The Liberals promised in last fall's throne speech to end chronic homelessness, which refers to people who are on the streets for long stretches of time and are difficult to house because many won't go to shelters or traditional support systems.
Municipal leaders have seized on the promise this week during the annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
On Monday, the mayors of Canada's biggest cities unsuccessfully sought a timeline from Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland about when the government intended to meet that promise.
A readout from Freeland's office after the meeting noted that she "reiterated the federal government's commitment to completely end chronic homelessness" and mayor pressed the need for program to tackle the causes of homelessness.
Small #Alberta city of Medicine Hat has ended #homelessness. #abpoli
The work in Medicine Hat has stretched a decade.
It began with work on creating the central list, known as a by-name list, which becomes a real-time database of those experiencing homelessness. Rogers said that list turned people from numbers into names and allowed officials to understand the context of their homelessness and their level of need, such as if they had children.
The measure was also used in London, Ont., which the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness in February credited for that city being deemed to have ended veterans homelessness.
The group's president, Tim Richter, noted that by-name lists are now in use in other communities as one of several strategies Medicine Hat used that are embedded in the federal homelessness strategy, known as "Reaching Home."
He said other cities need not follow Medicine Hat's road map exactly, noting efforts will have to adapt to local circumstances that will need to be tested and adjusted as work progresses.
"No two cities are the same, so there's always some adaptation and some adjustments that need to be made, but what Medicine Hat has done over the course of 10 or 12 years is developed and tested and showed the strategies to end homelessness," Richter said.
"It's still a lot of work … and the first step in so many places is deciding that this is what you've got to do."
A city doing that today may be able to reach the goal in 10 years or less, especially now with federal and provincial backing, Richter said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2021.