August 26th, 2019

Hat’s homeless efforts evolving

By Collin Gallant on June 9, 2018.

Frank O'Dea, founder of the Second Cup coffee franchise, told local advocates for ending homelessness on Friday that determination can lead to great things. He spoke at the eighth annual community update on the initiative to end homelessness in Medicine Hat, held at the Esplanade.--NEWS PHOTO COLLIN GALLANT


cgallant@medicinehatnews.com
@CollinGallant

The program to tackle homelessness is evolving, administrators say, and moving resources from initial contact services for clients to more advanced supports as they go through it.

“We’re the only city anywhere to downsize our housing-first programs because that type of service is less needed,” said Jaime Rogers, manager of housing with the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society.

She explained that people are graduating to next levels, and as the program enters its ninth year, fewer people are needing immediate help.

That includes reallocating resources from a housing-first program that aided 17 individuals in 2017 toward permanent supportive spaces, first added last year.

The ongoing programming, offered locally last year thanks to grants from the province, helps people maintain housing by offering onsite counselling or support.

The Community Housing Society also plans to expand day programming, typically only offered during the colder winter months, to run year round. A new addiction counselling program will be augmented by “sober living” programming and counselling to help navigate legal and mental health problems.

Rogers made the announcements Friday at the annual luncheon at the Esplanade where attendees were supporters, employees and clients of the housing society.

The eighth annual “community update” also featured an inspirational speech from Frank O’Dea.

The founder of Second Cup Coffee shop franchise told the crowd he was a teenage alcoholic living a “dirty, lonely, sometimes violent” life on the streets in the early 1970s.

He decided to get sober one day but still needed to panhandle a dime to call a shelter.

“I am so grateful to be living in a country where you can have a second chance and a third or fourth,” he said. “But that comes with a responsibility to give back.”

He also said seemingly small things, chance meetings, along with vision and leadership can lead to great things.

For example, he faced many naysayers when in the mid-1970s he sought out financing to expand his take-out coffee business, which was eventually franchised nationwide.

“There are a lot of people who say you can’t do it, give up,” he said, adding that Medicine Hat had done good work to tackle homelessness that should be commended.

“Tell this story, it’s a story to be proud of,” he said.

O’Dea is also involved in charities War Child Canada, Street Kids International and the Canadian Landmine Foundation.

The theme explored in this community update was the “cost of homelessness” and administrators say beyond the social and personal costs, dollars are being saved because of the program.

Figures provided show that among people in the programs, the number of days spent in hospital were 30 per cent fewer and days incarcerated fell by 69 per cent.

At the same time, interactions with emergency medical service workers rose by 13 per cent, as did court attendance, by 34 per cent. The latter statistics are taken to mean clients are working to rectify health and legal problems.

Since 2009, shelter utilization has dropped by 41 per cent.

The housing society says 72 individuals were aided with housing-first or rapid rehousing services last year.

“We know there are people who still struggle with homelessness in this community,” said Rogers.

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