There are many barriers that communities face in ending homelessness. These barriers include, but are not limited to, high rates of in-migration, shortage of affordable housing, lack of coordination in systems, and agencies under strain to provide service (Alberta Secretariat, October 2008). These barriers are prevalent within the City of Grande Prairie.
Economic prosperity in resource based industries and related support industries lured large numbers of workers to the Grande Prairie area. Within the last ten years, the city’s population has more than doubled. As of 1994, Grande Prairie’s highest residential growth rate was over the 2005 to 2007 time period, with an increase of 5,596 residents (2007 Population Analysis, 2007). According to the 2007 Municipal Census, there are now approximately 50,000 city residents.
Prior to the global economic downturn, the strong economic growth in the region caused a significant drop in poverty rates. However, for some workers, earnings did not keep pace with the cost of living. The City of Grande Prairie has the distinction of having the highest combined residential property taxes and utility charges in all of Alberta, (City of Edmonton, Annual Residential Property Taxes and Utility Charges Survey, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007). Grande Prairie market rental rates, grocery costs, and gas prices are also among the highest in the province (Community housing: A stakeholder report on housing and homelessness, 2008).
Lack of coordination in systems is also a challenge when it comes to ending homelessness. Currently, the system is hard to navigate. Many Albertans are uncertain what Government services are available and how to access them. Residents who require assistance face a dizzying array of programs and services from various provincial ministries with separate application forms and different intake points. Accessing services is a daunting process. Clients often find themselves directed to numerous service delivery agents at various locations. At each intake point, they must repeat and re-describe their circumstances and histories to a new service agent in order to access a particular service. The client’s journey to secure assistance involves commencing a number of separate, disconnected processes as if each was their first encounter with the Alberta government. This is inefficient, cumbersome and exhausting for clients, and not cost-effective for taxpayers.
Not-for-profit social service agencies play a key role in the homeless serving system. Many not-for-profit agencies are currently under strain, facing increased demand for their services as they struggle with higher operating costs. Salaries, benefits and working conditions are largely uncompetitive in the not-for profit sector, making it difficult for agencies to recruit staff.