Hurtin' Albertans

"Hurtin' Albertan" is a song by Corb Lund, one that was in my head this week as I traveled up to Calgary and the second annual “Canadian Homelessness Data Sharing Initiative.” The song is actually about a rodeo rider driving home, but the title cast an appropriate theme and mood for a Canadian homelessness conference.

The conference focused on data, seven plenary sessions presented to about 100 people in a large conference room at the Public Policy School of the University of Calgary. I was invited to give the last talk, in which I reviewed and commented on the sessions that were presented. Think of me as a meta-discussant here.

Just like Corb Lund would probably be much better known if he were from Texas, much of the research presented here has less visibility (at least in the US) by virtue of being Canadian. Most of the stuff that was presented was both interesting and previously unknown to me, albeit most of the approaches that were presented – such as on HMIS, PIT counts, cost studies, were very familiar. For readers who are familiar with those acronyms, you should find out more about what’s going on up north.

Good conferences not only have stimulating material, but also provide, either intentionally or not, a sense of community that builds as the conference goes on. That I’d find such community in a faraway place such as Calgary surprised me, as the only person at the conference that I had previously met was Nick Falvo of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, who were kind enough to fly me out. But I found the presenters and the participants to be unusually approachable, allowing me to get into numerous discussions in between sessions. And both nights that I was there I found good dinner and drinking company, and spent much time talking with Eric Latimer, Aaron Saegart, and Patrick Hunter, whose company proved to be as good as the work they are doing.

I don’t usually get this upbeat about conferences. Traveling was tougher than I anticipated… there just aren’t any convenient flights from Philly to Calgary and I ended up going by way of Phoenix to get there and a redeye to get home. But the conference was worth the trip, although I was a hurtin' Philadelphian upon my arrival home on Friday morning.

Stephen Metraux