Claresholm town council updated on social needs assessment

By Rob Vogt
Claresholm and District Family and Community Support Services partnered with the town’s economic development department and hired the Rural Development Network to prepare a social needs assessment for the Town of Claresholm. FCSS uses the needs assessment to further their work and assist community members with their needs.
At its March 11 meeting, Claresholm town council reviewed an update on the follow-up to the assessment.
It stated there were no surprises in this social needs assessment. Sample sizes obtained from the surveys for the assessment were unfortunately much smaller than anticipated, so some the assessment does seem to over or under represent some of the issues. Six teens, for example, were surveyed so not really enough to provide good data for the community as a whole.
However it was noted this is still good information within the assessment. Some highlights from the needs assessment, plus some other related trends and updated information include:
• Housing is a huge issue for the town, especially the lack of low-income rental properties.
• Cost of housing is too expensive. People are forced into homes that are not affordable or sustainable for their income. About 39 per cent spend more than 30 per cent on rent.
• Claresholm has a large population of lower income people, due to minimum wage jobs and also a large, senior population earning only government pensions.
• A large percentage of households are 65 and older, at 36 per cent of the total population.
• As of January 2024, there has been an increase in seniors and older adults overwhelmed with debt and needing debt solutions.
• Mental health issues have always been apparent, but they seem to be growing after COVID. A lot of clients from the Claresholm Centre for Mental Health and Addictions stay in the area. The centre is currently at capacity and often has clients staying longer due to no rental availability.
• Drugs/substance abuse is an issue. It seems to be accepted in the community for underage people to be part of this culture.
• The top social issues recognized are substance abuse/addictions, mental health, depression, bullying, and loneliness.
Recommendations and observations from the social needs assessment are to educate the community about resources; that issues are intertwined with each other; that prevention is paramount; to reduce the silos within the community; and community engagement.
There are many different initiatives, programs, and actions being taken to try and help address these different issues noted. Many of these are programs and actions that have been done for years, and others are new initiatives sparked from this needs assessment and other sources. They include:
• Working with local schools for presentations and tours.
• Posting regularly on Facebook, in the office, and the community bulletin board located at post office, for awareness and programming in the community where possible
• Referrals to community resources such as the mental health clinic.
• Kindness week Initiative 2024.
• Pink Shirt Day, for anti-bullying.
• Ongoing monthly lunch and learns with Cottonwood Village, and the coordinated response to elder abuse.
• Referrals to Westwind Communities for a rental subsidy that can be up to $500 for rentals in Claresholm for low income residents.
• Referrals to the Claresholm Housing Authority, and Porcupine Hills Lodge for subsidized senior and family housing.
• Making sure all seniors are receiving the maximum pension and subsidy available, and advocating as needed.
• Networking with other local agencies by hosting monthly interagency meetings. This allows local organizations, businesses and professionals to connect and better help community members
• Community Volunteer Income Tax Program, which provides free income tax returns for those on a low or modest income.
• Currently working to recruit volunteers for Helping Hands and Volunteer Driving to help those in need with low/fixed incomes
• Working together with the transportation society for ga rant application to help subsidize transportation for low income individuals.
• Applied for a homelessness grant to assist with local housing needs such as a security deposit or a one-time rental assistance for those in need.
• Working with the Rural Development Network to be part of a homelessness estimate project for Claresholm.
• Hosting social programs for seniors to connect with other seniors to support each other such as senior games/chats, walking groups, family bingo, strength and chair yoga classes.
• Open door policy encouraging individuals to reach out anytime.
• Currently running weekly teen group and, monthly junior teen, and creative kids groups.
• Hosting free programming such as a Family Day Skate, which promoted family unity and community engagement.
Coun. Craig Zimmer said he appreciated the work, but how was the study promoted if only six youth responded?
Chief Administrative Officer Abe Tinney said the small sample size was an issue. He suspected conclusions drawn from a small sample size was why the report fell flat when initially presented to council.
Zimmer asked what could be done in the future.
Coun. Mike Cutler said focus groups were done, but that is a discussion for the next study.
“I think it is a valid concern,” Tinney said, adding a process is need to connect better with the public.
Coun. Kandice Meister said the report still maps the social needs.
“It’s pretty on the money, I think,” she said.
“People have to be willing to engage as well,” said Coun. Kieth Carlson, noting information was put on social media and in the Local Press. “People still have to have the desire to engage.”