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