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Survey under way of homelessness in Fort Macleod

cassie walmsley

Cassie Walmsley is co-ordinator of the rural homelessness estimation project for Fort Macleod Family and Community Support Services. She is conducting a survey until Oct. 31.

If stable housing is out of your grasp, Cassie Walmsley wants to hear from you.
Walmsley is co-ordinator of the rural homelessness estimation project for Fort Macleod Family and Community Support Services (FCSS).
“We are trying to collect up-to-date information about housing issues in our community and the amount of people living with unstable housing,” Walmsley said.
Until the end of October, Walmsley will survey people living in unstable housing situations in Fort Macleod.
Walmsley has partnered with Affordable Housing, Foothills Centre, Salvation Army, Kids First Family Centre, the RCMP, Fort Macleod Library and Training Inc. and others.
“We’re hoping that these organizations will connect us with people,” Walmsley said. “We’re trying to get the word out as much as possible so these agencies have agreed to tell everyone that they see.”
The 10-minute survey asks questions about current and past living situations, employment, demographic information, citizenship and immigration status and income sources.
“Then it asks what kind of resources they’re hoping will come out of this,” Walmsley said. “It also asks for a little bit of context about why they think their housing situation is unstable. That gives us a better idea of how they got there.”
The survey is anonymous and confidential, and can be completed with Walmsley’s help or by themselves.
Fort Macleod is one of 21 rural Alberta communities taking part in what will be one of the largest rural data collection projects on unstable housing ever completed.
Fort Macleod received a $5,000 grant from the Alberta Rural Development Network to carry out the project. It is one of 14 communities to receive funding.
The project, which is just the fourth-ever count of rural unstable housing in North America, is a partnership of the Family and Community Support Services Association of Alberta and the Alberta Rural Development Network.
Research suggests that 35,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night, that 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a year, and that homelessness costs Canadians $4.5-billion each year.
“It’s hard to imagine what life without a stable home would be like if you’ve never been in that situation but it can be really tough on people,” Walmsley said. “If people don’t have that stable housing situation, that’s kind of at the core of their life. It’s hard to succeed in any other area if you don’t have that stability.”
Homelessness is defined as the situation of an individual or family without stable, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it.
“Importantly, it’s self-defined,” Walmsley said. “So something that’s stable for one person might not be considered stable for someone else. Something that is appropriate for one person might not be appropriate for someone else.”
Walmsley said the survey is important in order to give an accurate picture of a problem that is sometimes hidden in rural communities.
“Homelessness in rural communities doesn’t always look the same as it does in cities,” Walmsley explained. “It’s very hidden, and for that reason it’s met with a lot of skepticism when we try to address the problem of homelessness in rural communities.”
“All of the data on homelessness is in the cities, so that’s where all of the money goes.”
Walmsley said it is hoped the survey will present a clearer picture of rural homelessness in order to find solutions and attract more government funding.
Walmsley expects the survey to reveal homelessness is a bigger problem in Fort Macleod than most people realize.
“I think there’s a lot of couch-surfing, people living in hotels and motels, living in shelters — places where you don’t necessarily see them on the street,” Walmsley said. “It’s very hidden in rural communities, and in Fort Macleod specifically. We don’t always see the extent of it.”
To participate in the survey or contact Cassie Walmsley, phone 403-894-9048 or 403-553-4491 or stop by the FCSS office at the G.R. Davis Administration Building.

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