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Plan aims to eliminate homelessness in 5 years

Work will begin in December on a five-year community plan to end homelessness in Fredericton.

Tim Ross, co-ordinator of the Community Action Group on Homelessness in Fredericton, said Thursday he wants to see a draft plan complete by March.

“I really hope that Fredericton as a community can take the next step together and rise to the challenge and have the vision and courage to end homelessness as a community so that five years from now, we know that no one in our community will go without housing for more than 14 days,” he said.

 Ross made the comments at seventh annual Affordable Housing Day conference in Fredericton on Thursday. More than 100 people attended the event.

The timeframe Ross set out includes: a call to partners by Dec. 4, engagement sessions from December to February, a draft plan by March and the adoption of the plan by April.

“The Community Action Group on Homelessness will provide the community with the process,” said Ross.

“We invite funders, public and non-profit service providers, community leaders, individuals with lived experience and the community at large to contribute towards ending homelessness in Fredericton.”

A slide displayed during the conference indicated Fredericton has 430 visible homeless, 1,285 hidden homeless, 1,095 overcrowded households, 2,485 households that need major repairs and 6,105 persons living in unaffordable housing.

Ross said the plan to end homelessness, called The Road Home, will target those people living on the street or in shelters.

“One data point that we know is shelter utilization here, and in 2012, there were 262 unique individuals who accessed the Fredericton homeless shelters,” he said.

“So we’re not dealing with an enormous number.”

In recent years in Fredericton, hundreds of new units of affordable and subsidized housing have been built using various federal and provincial funding programs, said Ross.

Several individuals representing the for-profit and non-profit sector told the conference about projects to build affordable housing in Fredericton.

But solving homelessness isn’t as simple as keeping those funding programs going and building more units, said Ross.

“I wish it were,” he said.

“The other piece that is so important is to continue to mobilize the research and knowledge that we’ve gained as a community.”

Support programs to help the homeless adjust to living in their own unit are also vital, said Ross.

Kayla Allain, support services manager for Avide Development, a group that built 157 units of affordable housing in Fredericton in recent years, described the support services her organization provides for tenants, including self-esteem building, conflict management, smoking cessation, seniors adjusting to living in an apartment after living in a house, money management and mental-health issues such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

She said Avide pays for the service partially with government money and partially from private sources. The organization also offers those services to other landlords who would benefit from lower tenant turnover, said Allain.

Keynote speaker Brenda Prosken, general manager of community services in Vancouver, told the conference about that city’s successful efforts to reduce homelessness.

Prosken said the city donated $60 million worth of land to non-profit groups that used federal and provincial funding to build 1,500 new affordable housing units. Half those units are complete, she said.

Ross said he would love to the see the City of Fredericton donate land to affordable housing.

“It would be excellent to see a proportionate contribution to our plan to end homelessness,” he said.

“That’s making our tax dollars work for us. It’s a multiplier effect.”

Coun. Mike O’Brien chaired Thursday’s conference and said council has been working hard on the issue of homelessness, including donating a small piece of land to a recent Habitat for Humanities project in Barkers Point.

“That was a step in the right direction,” he said.

“We don’t have a lot of vacant land right in the downtown core (where the demand for affordable housing is highest), but there are other spots in the city where we have land that may be acceptable.”

O’Brien said the plan to eliminate homelessness won’t work with the city’s involvement.

“Every year we get a little bit more proactive,” he said.

“We have to find a way to assist this process.”

O’Brien said council may look at seed money for the homelessness plan or providing information systems support.

Originally published in The Daily Gleaner on Friday November 22, 2013. Written by Stephen Llewellyn