Hidden Homelessness in the Bow Valley

church in winter

In the thick of winter, our thoughts turn again to those struggling to find adequate shelter. Even if it’s sometimes challenging to witness homelessness in our Valley, we know it’s a reality. “Hidden homelessness” is a critical community issue in Canmore. The Homeless Society of the Bow Valley (HSBV, formerly the “REST Program”) is building on two winters of emergency shelter work and charting a sustainable future to support individuals in the Valley.

A broad community-wide partnership between Bow Valley Homeless to Housing Coalition (H2HC), St Michael’s Anglican Church, the Town of Canmore, Rural Development Network, Banff Canmore Foundation (BCF), Bow Valley Christmas Spirit Campaign (BVCSC), YWCA Banff, Canmore Hotel Hostel, RCMP, Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge, and local hospitals in Banff and Canmore led to the launch last winter o the REST program, a pilot overnight shelter for people experiencing homelessness in our community.

BCF contributed $10,000 to the program through the 2021 Community Grants which enabled the pilot project to get started, and specifically to support the training and employment of shelter staff.

In 2021, the REST Program connected 22 individuals in need of shelter between March 1 and April 1. Seventeen of them stayed as a guest at St Michael’s Anglican Church or the hotel/hostel program. Others found housing via YWCA Banff and other alternatives. Now, the partnership is evolving the program. The program is currently in the process of becoming a society, and as a result had to be renamed to Homelessness Society of the Bow Valley (HSBV). The Program consisted of a mat program and an emergency hotel/hostel program, supporting individuals on extremely cold weather days in February and also in April, once the mat program closed.

We asked the program’s board of directors for some reflections on last winter, and an update on where things are at today (February 2022).

1. What Were Some Key Learnings From Last Winter?

The key learning from the pilot was that there is an ongoing need for a low-barrier shelter in Canmore. There are individuals in our community who are rough sleeping, sleeping in the woods, in their vehicle or precariously housed and at risk of homelessness. COVID-19 has only worsened the situation for many people in our community.

Other important learnings were:

  • The need for additional supports and services for guests, some of which we were able to provide through partnerships with other providers and businesses in the community.
  • Some of these additional supports and services included access to basic sanitation resources such as showers and laundry, and access to the internet and a phone to stay connected with informal supports.
  • It was also observed that a lack of permanent home address had potential to act as a serious barrier in accessing various income supports.
  • More community engagement and ongoing regular communication is needed.
  • Food insecurity is an issue, and many guests would arrive having not eaten all day.

2. What’s Next For The Program?

The 2021 REST Program (Pilot), which is now called Homelessness Society of the Bow Valley (HSBV) Shelter Program completed in April, 2021. HSBV has a new board of directors and has submitted an application to the Province of Alberta to become a society.

On December 6, 2021, HSBV launched an outreach program. Through the Outreach Program, individuals who are without shelter are provided with information and resources, which may include temporary shelter. Four Outreach Workers were hired to manage phone, Facebook and email 7 days per week from 9am to 9pm. To date, 13 individuals have connected with the program, and 7 have been provided with emergency shelter.

On February 7, HSBV opened the doors for the overnight shelter program, which will run until March 31, 2022. Since opening, the shelter program has welcomed guests every night.

Women holding up a blanket

3. What Is The Situation This Winter In Canmore? 

Through a Federal grant provided by the Rural Development Network (RDN), we were able to hire four Outreach Workers who have been responding to inquiries and providing emergency shelter through our hotel/hostel program since December 6, 2021. This has been an extremely cold winter and we have had a number of individuals reach out for help. The program has been able to keep a number of people safe and out of the cold.

4. How Important Is Collaboration To Tackling The Homelessness Crisis?

Collaboration is extremely important, and we would not have been able to run the program without our partners in the community. The REST team is incredibly grateful for the support we received. Key partners included:

  • St. Michael’s Anglican Church
  • The Town of Canmore
  • YWCA Banff
  • H2HC
  • FCSS Canmore
  • RCMP
  • Canmore General Hospital
  • Banff Mineral Springs Hospital
  • Other Albertan shelters (Peace River, Hinton, Rocky Mountain House)
  • Indigenous advisor
  • And so many other partners!!

We also would not have been able to support our guests without our funders:

  • Rural Development Network (Reaching Home Federal Grant)
  • Banff Canmore Foundation (BCF)
  • Bow Valley Christmas Spirit Campaign
  • Private local businesses and donors

Through these relationships, we were able to provide referrals to other supports and other providers and get the word out about the program.

5. What Are Some Misconceptions In Our Community Around Homelessness?

While the awareness is growing, hidden homelessness exists in our community. This program was developed to meet an existing need and many community members were surprised to hear that individuals in our community were experiencing homelessness.

Common misconceptions around homelessness across any community can include concerns around safety or the “type” of person who may be staying at the shelter (and stereotypes around addiction, etc.), that people choose to be homeless, that people experiencing homelessness should simply find employment, that there are sufficient housing options in the Bow Valley and that property values will go down if a shelter is nearby. It’s important to note that while there were questions and concerns prior to the opening of the program, there were no incidents, safety issues or complaints once the program opened.

As for employment,


There are already people experiencing homelessness who are employed; however, it is much more difficult to find a job while experiencing homelessness. A number of different challenges, such as: lacking a permanent address, not having regular access to showers, barriers to transportation, and other difficulties like mental illness, make it difficult to obtain employment. Even when individuals experiencing homelessness find jobs, they are often part-time or minimum wage positions. This work fails to adequately meet their needs, due to expensive housing costs.

Homelessness Hub

You Can Get Involved!

To learn more about this program, follow Homelessness Society of the Bow Valley on Facebook and watch for their new website. Individuals can message the team via Facebook, call 403-493-3771 or Email HSBV.

The board of directors is keen to expand their work and connect with as many community members as possible.

"We welcome everyone’s support. We are currently seeking volunteer board members and committee members. We also welcome advice and information as well as donations.”

~ Board of Directors, Homeless Society of the Bow Valley

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