Approximately 25 homeless people live in tents and improvised structures in a wooded area behind the strip mall and Sumas Way and South Fraser Way in central Abbotsford. (Abbotsford News file photo)

Program to help homeless seeing success, Abbotsford mayor says

300 people reached by intake program, but most haven’t been able to find housing yet

Nearly a year into an experimental project that hopes to reduce homelessness, Abbotsford’s mayor is pleased with the results so far.

The city’s co-ordinated intake and referral (CIR) research project, kick-started by a $400,000 grant from the federal government, is intended to reach people experiencing homelessness and connect those individuals with necessary services.

“I want to make it very clear that the city doesn’t have a mandate for housing, health or income assistance, and we don’t get involved in that,” Mayor Henry Braun said.

Related: Homeless referral program launched after years of work

“But the city does have a responsibility, and has convened all of the other two levels of government and stakeholders, which is mostly our non-profits, to increase co-ordination.”

The CIR program started in earnest in September last year, but was the product of years of planning work, beginning with the federal grant, which was received in 2015.

Now, nearly a year into the project, Braun said he is beginning to hear success stories.

The city’s homelessness action advisory committee heard an update on the program’s implementation last week, with statistics from the first six months of the program.

Those data show that a total of 189 people had been reached by the CIR program by March 2018, although just 33 signed onto the program. Of the 33 people reached, 12 are now housed, while 21 remain homeless.

At the outset of the program, 54 people were reached in September of last year, with 17 people engaging – about 31 per cent of those contacted.

Since March, even more have been contacted, the city told The News this week. Of 300 people now reached, 40 have gone on to receive further supports.

“It is actually working better – we had nothing to base it on, because nobody’s doing this anywhere in Canada that I know,” Braun said.

Those who have signed on and been referred through the CIR program have gone to a variety of services, from the Hearthstone affordable housing complex and the Lookout Shelter to Cyrus Centre youth services and the Salvation Army, according to the committee report.

But Braun noted that while there are currently 100 units of supportive housing in the community, that’s slated to more than double, which could help get more of those seeking more stable housing under a roof.

Related: Homeless numbers spike 79 per cent in Abbotsford

“(We have) 140 units that have currently, or have recently gone through, the city review process. So we’re going to have 240 units available by 2020, early 2020,” Braun said, also pointing to an increase in the number of extreme weather mats from 20 in 2014 to 126 last winter.

Year-round shelter beds, too, have increased from 26 in 2014 to 66 beds this year.

The need is also increasing, though. Last year’s homeless count identified 271 people in need of housing, a 79 per cent increase between 2014 and 2017.

“I know some people think we aren’t doing anything. There is just an enormous amount of work that has gone into this,” Braun said.

“The intake and referral system has just been rolled out, but I’m hearing from other jurisdictions who are watching to see what we are doing because they very much want to take this system and apply it to their own communities.”

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

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