Recent stats from the Wheatland Crisis Society (WCS) revealed Strathmore has seen an increase of 800% in the new homeless population from last year.
Per the WCS's stats, last year's January-March time frame saw the Strathmore Overnight Shelter take in three new clients, and by the October-December time frame this rose to 24 new clients. In total, the Overnight Shelter saw 4664 clients last year.
Strathmore FCSS's Community Support Coordinator Melissa Masse said there are several factors that contributed to this increase, which was highlighted in the town's first-ever social needs assessment earlier this year.
"The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on society, including mental health, the economy, and other social concerns, like poverty and housing insecurity. Strathmore has also seen an increase in concerns related to substance and domestic abuse. Additionally, Strathmore's dependency ratio shows a higher proportion of non-working individuals (seniors and children) compared to provincial and federal averages, which can impact the economy and social services," Masse said.
Masse explained the town is hoping to address this issue through several approaches, with one of the biggest ways being creating more affordable housing. It's possible this could be seen through the potential building of new townhouses, although Masse said any potential development would need to go through a public hearing so "it would be inappropriate to speak on this item at this time." While council voted against this, it's possible this project could still go through depending on updates to the project's design.
Affordable housing is a long-term goal that would greatly benefit the community but would not address the rising homeless population immediately. Among other things, Masse said the Town provided $10 000 of funding for the Overnight Shelter for 2023's budget. Beyond the overnight shelter, Strathmore FCSS also tries to address this issue through various support programs.
"Strathmore FCSS provides emergency supports to people in the community experiencing a variety of challenges. At times, this means assisting a client with applications to support programs. Other times, it’s as simple as a clean shirt, something to eat, or a gift card for groceries."
Ultimately, Masse said an issue as complicated and deep as homelessness has no simple solution, and says it takes an entire community effort.
“Addressing complex social issues, like homelessness, requires a collaborative approach that increases access to numerous services for residents that support health, housing, employment, basic needs, and social supports. No one organization or agency can address these issues alone."
Masse added Town Council has been active on the advocacy front, as they have sent several letters to the Provincial Government on several issues like the physician shortage, support for the proposed new seniors' lodge, and more.
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