There’s a new national player in the struggle to end homelessness in Canada.  The new Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness was launched last week, and promises to be an effective champion for ending homelessness in Canada by mobilizing communities and governments across the country to develop and implement their own 10 Year Plans to End Homelessness. Check out their newly released “A Plan Not a Dream”, a document that outlines the Ten Year Plan approach.

“We will seek to make progress one community at a time, building on the proven success of communities like Calgary.” says Tim Richter, who will head up this effort.  The CAEH will also play a strong role in ensuring that all levels of government in Canada do their part in supporting communities, including through investment in affordable housing.

Why do I like this new Alliance?  First, the focus is on supporting communities, municipalities and provincial and national governments to develop strategic and coordinated responses to homelessness.  I have long argued that we need to move away from a response that simply provides emergency services such as shelters and drop-ins.  In many, if not most communities, the provision of emergency services means that homelessness is addressed through a fragmented patchwork of such services, often with a heavy dose of law enforcement (we have to acknowledge that the criminalization of homelessness IS unfortunately part of our national strategy to address homelessness).

The Ten Year Plan model, first pioneered in the United States, but successfully adapted in many Canadian cities, has shown that we can shift this focus, not only though strategic coordination, but also by emphasizing prevention and rapid rehousing (it should be noted that Housing First is a central strategy of the Ten Year Plan model).  This means retooling the emergency sector to ensure that people don’t languish in shelters for years.  The Ten Year Plan model has been proven effective, and Tim Richter will bring his experience from the highly successful model in Calgary to the national stage.

A second strong feature of the approach advocated by the CAEH is the foundational belief that research and data collection must be part of the solution.  For too long in Canada, we have said: “We don’t need research to solve homelessness; we know what the problem is, and we know what the solution is”.  Wrong!  This kind of thinking has actually gotten in the way. In communities that have successfully addressed homelessness, research has been used to address instrumental concerns (does Housing First work?), pose conceptual challenges (How can we shift the focus to prevention), implement program evaluation, and as a means of supporting systems-based responses through data management (such as the highly successful HMIS system).   Research DOES matter.

Now some people may question whether we need yet another national entity for addressing homelessness.  Won’t this just increase competition and dilute the effort?  In fact, the CAEH and other important national voices such as the Canadian Homelessness Research Network, Raising the Roof, the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Wellesley Institute and Eva’s Initiatives, as well as many other significant local groups have already signaled not only their intent, but their active commitment to working collaboratively in a way that enhances the work of everyone. 

Others may question whether there is much to be learned from a model that originated in the United States, or whether the Alberta experience is transferable to the rest of Canada.  Well, on that front, we need to get over ourselves!  We need to identify the best ideas; figure out what works; and adapt these practices to new contexts.  I don’t care where an idea comes from.  If it’s a good idea and it is proven effective, I’ll take it.

Stephen GaetzProfessor & Director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless HubYork University