Lo­cal of­fi­cials share strate­gies with fed­eral com­mit­tee

Lo­cal of­fi­cials try to show House of Com­mons group what is work­ing for Medicine Hat’s so­cial de­vel­op­ment

Medicine Hat News - - FRONT PAGE - COLLIN GAL­LANT cgal­lant@medicine­hat­news.com Twit­ter: CollinGal­lant

Medicine Hat’s suc­cess in re­duc­ing home­less­ness may be hard to repli­cate in other com­mu­ni­ties, though lo­cal de­ci­sion-mak­ing is key, a House of Com­mons com­mit­tee on so­cial de­vel­op­ment was told by lo­cal of­fi­cials dur­ing a hear­ing Thurs­day.

Wit­nesses stressed the need for lo­cal co-or­di­na­tion and lo­cal de­ci­sion-mak­ing based on lo­cal needs and a lo­cal “quar­ter­back” to keep goals, work and out­comes co­he­sive in the com­mu­nity.

That aligns with a new re­port re­leased one day ear­lier fol­low­ing on the work of a home­less elim­i­na­tion strat­egy, Medicine Hat could tackle all facets of poverty by co-or­di­nat­ing re­sources and avoid­ing du­pli­ca­tion, it said.

Alina Turner, a re­searcher com­mis­sioned to write the “Thrive” re­port into lo­cal poverty re­duc­tion last sum­mer, tes­ti­fied, “It’s per­fect chance to talk about the next chal­lenge for the Medicine Hat com­mu­nity.”

She says fed­eral gov­ern­ment ac­tion on a hous­ing strat­egy or ba­sic in­come pro­pos­als is be­ing dis­cussed, but work should con­tinue in the mean­time.

“We’re a long way out from im­ple­men­ta­tion, so we can’t just twid­dle our thumbs. We have to take care of the things we can take care of and that’s at the com­mu­nity level.”

The Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Hu­man Re­sources, Skills and So­cial De­vel­op­ment and the Sta­tus of Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties held sea­son at the Clar­ion Ho­tel Thurs­day.

Tasked since last fall to draft a re­port for in­clu­sion in the mak­ing of a na­tional poverty ac­tion strat­egy, Medicine Hat was the lat­est stop for the group on a six-day, six-city tour.

Chair MP Brian May (Lib­eral, Chatham) said his com­mit­tee wanted to visit com­mu­ni­ties to meet with ground-level or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“We’d heard about the hous­ing first project that’s been at work here all across the coun­try,” he told re­porters. He hopes to have a re­port com­plete this spring and felt ini­tial drafts of poverty ac­tion plan would be de­vel­oped next fall.

Area MP Glen Motz sat in and par­tic­i­pated in the meet­ing.

“It’s an hon­our to host them in Medicine Hat to have a look at the col­lab­o­ra­tive things this com­mu­nity is do­ing to deal with what the com­mit­tee is study­ing — that’s poverty re­duc­tion, home­less­ness, men­tal health is­sues, and how they are all in­te­grated.

“To show­case the things this com­mu­nity has done of the last eight to 10 years and how we have worked as a com­mu­nity ... could have an im­pact on a larger scale.”

Tes­ti­mony was heard from sev­eral key par­tic­i­pants in the Thrive re­port, which sug­gests spend­ing $385,000 per year to pro­vide greater co-or­di­na­tion among about 200 lo­cal com­mu­nity and char­ity groups, so­cial ser­vice providers and donors.

In­volved were Robin Mi­iller and Jaime Rogers of the Com­mu­nity Hous­ing So­ci­ety, Medicine Hat Col­lege pres­i­dent Denise Hen­nings, Rea­gan Weeks (Prairie Rose School Di­vi­sion) and Celina Sym­monds, co-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Medicine Hat and Dis­trict Food Bank.

Motz, a re­tired po­lice in­spec­tor elected last fall, had been part of early-stage work with the Thrive group and other poverty projects dur­ing his time with the po­lice force.

Jean­nette Han­son of the Wiy­wasin Friend­ship Cen­tre in Medicine Hat told the com­mit­tee that more ad­min­is­tra­tive lay­ers and costs were not needed be­tween the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and abo­rig­i­nal aid agen­cies.

Mayor Ted Clugston told the com­mit­tee that Medicine Hat is unique and “had the right peo­ple in place at the right time” to cre­ate home­less ini­tia­tive that aims to more quickly move clients at tem­po­rary shel­ters to per­ma­nent ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Based on eco­nomic mod­els, the move would re­duce stress and costs of home­less­ness on so­cial wel­fare pro­grams, as well as the jus­tice and health-care sys­tems.

In terms of af­ford­able hous­ing, the city is able to move quickly on grants that work on a co-pay model (which re­quire one-third from each level of gov­ern­ment) by ded­i­cat­ing land for projects from its mu­nic­i­pal hold­ings. Trans­porta­tion was also a high pri­or­ity, said Clugston.

“Medicine Hat is a shov­el­ready city, a can-do city,” he said dur­ing an open­ing state­ment.

The city has also been able to keep util­ity prices low and pro­vide re­bates through the Hat-Smart pro­gram, and is also de­vel­op­ing a “Fair En­try” pol­icy that would pro­vide dis­count rates for lower-in­come in­di­vid­u­als at city fa­cil­i­ties.

Also ap­pear­ing were of­fi­cials with Im­mi­grant Ac­cess Fund Canada, which pro­vides loans to re­cent im­mi­grants seek­ing to up­grade pro­fes­sional cre­den­tials, and Univer­sity of Calgary dean of en­vi­ron­ment design John Brown.

NEWS PHOTO EMMA BEN­NETT

Amy Becker with Cana­dian Men­tal Health reads through sta­tis­tics Wed­nes­day at the un­veil­ing of Thrive.

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