Medicine Hat, Alberta Becomes First Canadian City To End Homelessness

Happy-Homeless-ManBy Amanda Froelich

When there are more foreclosed homes than individuals living on the street, you know there’s something wrong with ‘the system’. Cities like Dallas, Texas and Honolulu, Hawaii have implemented creative concepts to help remedy the homelessness crisis in the States, but until recently, no major Canadian city had successfully alleviated its homelessness issue.

But that has changed in the city of Medicine Hat, Alberta, where all 60,000 residents now sleep soundly in a safe environment with a roof. Thanks to a new policy in the Canadian city, housing is mandated for everyone who has spent 10 days in a shelter or on the streets.

Now, when officials of the city learn of an individual living in these circumstances, they move him or her (or the family) into a house or apartment. Mayor of the town, Ted Clugston, says 10 days is the absolute limit an individual may live on the streets – even though the city is normally quick to find housing for homeless individuals.

Medicine Hat’s “Housing First” plan ensures every individual is off the streets before tackling the underlying causes of homelessness. Utah adopted the same model to reduce its homelessness by 91% in ten years.

Clugston told CBC News: 

Housing First puts everything on its head. It used to be, ‘You want a home, get off the drugs or deal with your mental health issues. If you’re addicted to drugs, it’s going to be pretty hard to get off them, if you’re sleeping under a park bench.

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In 2009, the city began building new homes for the homeless and has since moved nearly 900 people off the streets. Really, it all comes down to economics: An individual living on the streets costs the city about $100,000, compared to about $20,000 to house the individual. Since adopting Housing First, police calls about homeless people and emergency room visits have decreased dramatically.

When a city opts to care for its most troubled citizens, a bold statement is made about the people of the town and the leaders who manage it.

“This is the cheapest and the most humane way to treat people,” said Clugston.

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  • Anti H J Anslinger

    More evidence that the whole world never needed America’s war on drugs.

  • Lorie Nichols

    Use your brain…the next sentence qualified the expense. If you think there isn’t a cost fixed to police attending or medical assistance you’re woefully uninformed of the economics of running any type of infrastructure. These costs are incurred by the municipality by having to pay for more staff and services…paying for a home and utilities at a much lower cost is still an expense…but a much lesser one. Get it now?

    • Maureen

      you don’t get it. you cant compare all those costs dealing with a homeless person on the street with just the housing cost. You don’t put a roof over their heads and expect that to be it do you. Come on. There would be the rehabilitation costs etc. This is a start but lets not be short sighted here. if all you got out of it is that 20,000 is much less than 100,000 you don’t get it.

      • Wesley Waite

        Okay So lets say you spend the night outside and have a
        sleeping bag you thought you would be fine but it turned out to be colder than
        you thought, your now homoeothermic and have frost bitten toes. A police officer finds you in the middle of the night and establishes your in a bad way. That officer then calls for an ambulance to take you to emergency. You will then spend the night in hospital because they cannot discharge you without a viable place to spend the night.

        Costs associated with this night: in Alberta 385$ for the Ambulance ride, cost of an emergency room visit for and uninsured resident (Vancouver) 385$ one day’s ward (Vancouver) 1332$.

        I am going to put it out there that if your homeless you are probably not making
        your Medical Services Plan payments and the ambulance and hospital are going to
        charge somebody so my guess is the city.

        In one night we are already at several months rent, and we have not talked about other costs that may have incurred like the cop had to do some overtime to deal with the situation or the actual cost of serious frostbite damage. When you are homeless you are exposed to far more risk than is necessary, and emergency measures are always far more expensive than preventative ones. This person is the put back on the street and the following week … oh I don’t know gets beat
        up by a group of teenagers who think it is funny to harass a homeless person. I am trying to illustrate that there are a lot of cost associated with the risks of homelessness that are separate from cost of treating addiction or mental illness. This is a conservative Mayer he would not be claiming it is cheaper if it was not, and they are not pulling these numbers out
        of nowhere they know what they are talking about.

      • Bev Pretty

        proven that the first year cost more, but once services are in place and that person is independent, and settled in a home it does cost 20,000 a year

        • Michael Horn

          One would hope that a reasonable percentage of the homeless would be able to become at least somewhat productive…

          This issue is going to get far more important as labor is becoming less and less valuable. Due to offshoring and automation.

          We are only beggining to see this issue.

      • J. James

        Yes, but the cost of housing them, is less than the cost of caring for them on the street. Either way, you’re going to have costs for rehab, food, education and employment prep, etc. However, when they are off the streets, the additional cost of policing and caring for injuries related to being out on the streets, is reduced. That’s the point being made, and arguing semantics, is ridiculous.

    • Grace Bell

      Well said, why can’t commenters just use some thought before just shooting off at the hip.

    • Mike Bromley

      No, I don’t “get it now”…your condescension was too loud.

    • Rory Flood

      Sorry but spouting cost’s with not backing it up with actual facts or a report is just opinion. I want to see the breakdown on how a homeless person costs the city 100K a year. Show me where in the City budget the 90M for homeless people is being set. Sorry, not a fact but opinion.

  • pauld315

    I wonder if they would do the same if a person crossed over into Canada from the US and they were immediately homeless ?

    • Bryan Hilson

      does it matter, homeless is homeless and in this day in age it should not matter what country you are from, in reality, there is no separation of American and Canadian or even Russian and Chinese for that matter. We are all humans and worrying about where some one is born is not something we should worry about. People need help and that’s it!

  • the dave

    No matter what the costs to alleveiate it are – homelessness is unacceptable.

  • Ruth

    In Canada, there is universal (free to the patient) healthcare, ie. No insurance premiums. The cost of every individual’s healthcare is borne by all members of society through taxation. Thus, every emergency room visit avoided is the total cost of that visit saved by the government. Big, big savings, and a healthier population overall.

    • Mike Bromley

      Not if you make above a certain income threshold.

    • April

      Ambulance rides and medication are not covered. These costs are out of pocket.

  • Bev Pretty

    No they do not eat well on the street, the cost of 1 person using emergency rooms, police, ambulances, shelters, drug overdoses, gangerine,jails this is where it the the expense is. The don’t get a home built for them…
    They rent w subsidiaries…. Do some research before you say the story is full of holes

    • Bryan Hilson

      agreed, also it does not matter where the money comes from, no one should have a problem with this plan and if you do then you are greedy and inconsiderate to the real problems of our world.

      • Mike Bromley

        Nice. Now anyone who questions a program is “greedy and inconsiderate”. Thanks for that pearl of wisdom.

    • Maureen

      how can they pay any rent? and I would assume that most of the things on your list would still continue to be an expense. You can not just take a person off the street who have issues that are putting them there put a roof over their head and expect all those issues to go away. Maybe you need to do some research. The holes in the article are questions unanswered.

      • Darcy

        so it sounds to me your supporting the refugees coming over…. the government is giving them about 2,000$ a month. I’d rather that 2000 go to our own homeless

      • Bev Pretty

        what holes would you like the questions answered to? I will be happy to answer, if I can.
        The rent 323.00 allowed by Social Services the rest comes from a government subsidy, that was put in place in 2008
        The housing First Participant are connected with services that cannot be accessed with out an address, such as a family doctor. Mental Health, and also with a support worker for aprox 1 year until that said person is able to live independently.
        No the issues do not go away abstinence from drugs or alcohol is not a requirement to be housed, hence “Housing First”.
        Of course things on the list are an expense,
        Evidence based stats are available to the public and they have shown that housing first programs work and cost a lot less than having people on the street.
        if you are finding the need to keep asking the same questions then yes you need to research. Even minimal research would have answered your redundant questions.
        People below have also answered your questions.

  • Mark Anthony

    I`ve heard this mayor speak at a conference, he begun by saying that the city has a massive oil/gas revenue each year, the numbers might have been 4million (I can’t remember), so for communities without that, it might be tough to build. He also mentioned that there were still people living outside, because surprise, not everyone wants to be housed. If I were the mayor of Calgary I would be issuing a lot of one way bus tickets, that’s for sure.

  • Deryck Stephen Shewchuk

    sounds to good to be true.. doubt that its real though or I would move there for a free home

    • Deryck Stephen Shewchuk

      and I can have my homeless step daughter and her husband on the bus tomorrow if it was real

      • brewguy316

        Stay where you are…we don’t need you here.

        • Deryck Stephen Shewchuk

          saving space for trudeaus muslims??

          • David Braganza

            Would rather have “Trudeau’s Muslims” than an ignorant bigot like yourself. Can’t believe you have the gall to call yourself a Canadian with a statement like that.

          • Deryck Stephen Shewchuk

            we need a leader like trump to lead the weak in

          • JamesKelso

            Trump isn’t a leader. If he was, he would lead the pack by making his products in American factories by American workers. That would cut into his profit so he won’t.

          • Happy Dance

            Trump is far from a leader. That is why he will never be any president of mine!

  • bewisetoday

    I love this idea and would love it even better if there are mental health services available along with counseling for those folks who have slipped between the cracks of life. Sometimes life is too hard for people and getting them to cope without drugs or alcohol to do it can be a real struggle for them.

  • Bas

    just stop making more babies. There are way too many people, and there is not enough work. Do I have to be clearer, ladies and gentlemen?

    • Chris

      Bas, we need a birth rate of at least 2.1 otherwise the government will run out of money for social programs and eventually the society will become extinct. As people get older and live longer due to good healthcare and lifestyles in developed countries we need enough young people entering the Job market and paying taxes. Canada is already in deep trouble with a birthrate 1.6 and falling, that’s why we need more and more immigrants.

  • logitech

    the head of Medicine Hat was one of not many who proclaimed: No Syrian refugees wanted in our city.

  • Mike Bromley

    Yes. Indeed lots of holes. Written in very simplistic terms…suggesting zero research. I’m of a mind to think they got their figures reversed.

    • Happy Dance

      Why don’t you wait until a year has passed and they can release actual cost analysis for the year, then you can make your judgment. Or is that too complex?

  • Patrick Conroy

    This article is a bunch of b.s I live in Medicine Hat Alberta and we do so have lots of homeless people on the streets here I know a few of them and it’s bs how they can say that Medicine Hat is homeless

  • John

    The first step, stabilize with housing. Then identify and offer the services required including moderate stable income. Result? Huge HUGE savings for society and the kind, gentle dignity given back to a worthy human soul. That’s priceless.

    • Did anyone consider that on the street it as very hard to get a job?

  • J. James

    There’s the fuel consumed while driving around responding to them, the dispatching services, wear and tear on vehicles and equipment. Should they have to spend the night in cells, there’s costs for that too. Plus the cost of processing and administration. If they end up trespassing while finding a place to sleep, and the proprietor presses charges, then you’re now tying up the courts, and the cost of that, is exponential. Then, if they are found guilty and fined, you now have to go after them for payment or incarcerate, which costs even more in court, policing, and administration, as well as corrections. What’s not to understand?

  • Duncan Stewart Arthurs

    its about time a city here in canada did something to help the homless on the street i praise this city and the leaders for doing this now if they can do it so can every city in this country do what they are doing may god shine on this from now on

  • Deborah Lewis Fehr

    Ashley you are still homeless? Why are you waiting for someone to give something to you? You obviously have a computer, and probably a cell phone otherwise you wouldn’t be on this platform..I don’t begrudge people needing help, or receiving help, but your animosity and entitlement is so apparent, as you reply on facebook either from your IPAD or iPHONE! Just saying!!

  • So just curious, how will they stop all the homeless people in calgary from hitch hiking to medicine hat? Will they send them back?

  • Happy Dance

    No, they go to jail and emergency rooms.

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