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4 levels of government meet on Edmonton homelessness crisis for ‘1st time’

Click to play video: '4 levels of government meet on Edmonton homelessness crisis'
4 levels of government meet on Edmonton homelessness crisis
Edmonton's mayor invited Canada's housing minister, Alberta's minister of social services and the Grand Chief of Treaty 6 to sit down together and discuss how to address the city's housing crisis that has led to so many homeless encampments. Sarah Ryan explains – Mar 5, 2024

Leaders of four different orders of government met on Tuesday to talk about Edmonton’s homelessness and housing crises, and possible solutions.

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi sat down with Alberta’s Seniors, Community and Social Services Minister Jason Nixon, federal Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Sean Fraser and Grand Chief Cody Thomas of the Confederacy of Treaty 6.

“This is the first time that I know of that four orders of government have come together … to tackle this crisis,” Sohi said.

“The commitment that I saw at this table is something that gives me hope that we’ll be able to continue to work together.”

He had been calling for such a meeting since presenting a motion to declare a housing and homelessness emergency in Edmonton. On Jan. 16, council passed a motion (9-4) for an emergency to be declared.

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Click to play video: 'Edmonton mayor, council debate declaring homelessness emergency'
Edmonton mayor, council debate declaring homelessness emergency

“We were aware of the concerns before,” Fraser said. “But when the mayor declares a state of emergency and invites me to a meeting, the answer is going to be yes. The only question is: when can we have everyone in the same room together to have the most productive conversation?”

Fraser described the meeting as “positive and collaborative.” He said they focused on how to improve coordination between all orders of government, reducing duplication, making sure the national housing strategy funding is accessible and building affordable housing more quickly.

Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages of Canada and Sean Fraser, minister of housing, infrastructure and communities in Edmonton on March 5, 2024. Sarah Ryan, Global News

“We know there is a homelessness crisis that’s impacted this city and cities across Canada,” Fraser said. “Before Christmas, we made the decision to top up the Reaching Home program by $100 million.

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“We anticipate, in the next number of weeks, that community based organizations in Alberta will receive an additional $14.3 million in order to meet the needs of vulnerable populations.”

Click to play video: 'Affordable housing receives funding from federal government'
Affordable housing receives funding from federal government

Thomas said the meeting was “a good start.”

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“Having the conversation around housing and some of the affordability issues, and the lack of housing throughout the province of Alberta specifically for Indigenous (communities) — increasing the standard of living for our people and the shortage of housing we have… through Treaty 6, 7 and 8.

“I definitely believe there was progress made on the aspect of collaboration and actually having everyone at the table and finding solutions instead of spinning tires,” he added.

“Us, as Indigenous, being at the table and actually coming up with solutions on: ‘Hey, this funding stream isn’t working,’ or: ‘Our applications are being denied for whatever reason,’ or there’s a jurisdictional issue to be able to build these homes.”

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Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi after his meeting with federal, provincial and Treaty 6 leaders on the city’s housing and homelessness crises on March 5, 2024. Sarah Ryan, Global News

Sohi thanked the ministers and grand chief for coming together Tuesday, and expressed gratitude for the province’s new navigation and support centre in Edmonton — with its supports for shelter space and affordable housing investments — and the federal government’s rapid housing and housing accelerator funds.

“I was able to convey to the ministers that despite those investments, which I appreciate, we cannot continue to respond to the symptoms of houselessness and housing crisis,” Sohi said. “We need to invest in the root causes. We need to invest to alleviate poverty, we need to invest in tackling mental health issues, but most importantly, we need to provide affordable supportive housing for struggling Edmontonians.”

The mayor said he wanted to declare a houselessness emergency to “focus more acutely on this problem.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton council presented with 48 ideas to help the homeless'
Edmonton council presented with 48 ideas to help the homeless

But Nixon didn’t agree with that approach.

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“We have concerns about municipalities using the word ’emergency’ and calling emergencies and bringing no other solutions to the table, no other resources, and no other things that happen as a result of that that would impact housing or homelessness, in this case.

“While I am happy, as always, to work with the mayor and enjoy a great working relationship with him as well as our federal counterparts, we meet all the time. He doesn’t have to declare a state of emergency to get a meeting with me,” Nixon stated.

“The province will work hard when it comes to addressing homelessness but we’ll continue to caution municipalities from using words like ’emergencies’ when there is a not a state of emergency and to just do blanket political statements that come with nothing that will address the issue.”

Nixon said the meeting provided an opportunity to talk about a number of issues, including the lack of funding for on-reserve housing and access to those programs, the need to coordinate on funding so that projects aren’t “stranded,” and Alberta getting its “full share” of federal funding.

“We will continue to call for appropriate funding across the country, whether it’s for Indigenous communities or for municipalities and provinces to make sure we’re receiving our full share of federal funding when it comes to tackling things like housing and other issues we see as joint jurisdiction between us and the federal government.

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“I think those were very productive conversations,” Nixon said.

Click to play video: 'Cache of knives, swords, axes and other weapons found at Edmonton encampment'
Cache of knives, swords, axes and other weapons found at Edmonton encampment

Fraser said the federal government was working on a bilateral agreement with Alberta.

“We have agreed to seek to coordinate our affordable housing programs to ensure we are investing in the same projects.”

Edmonton’s emergency declaration came after the dismantling of several homeless encampments in the city that were deemed “high-risk,” due to concerns about gang activity, drug use, fire risk or other factors.

Nixon said he is pleased with how police and city are taking down encampments, stressing they are unsafe for the public and for the people in encampments. He said there are risks of fatal overdoses, being victimized by gangs, fires, and even underage people being sexually abused.

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“Encampments are not safe and will not be allowed in the province of Alberta.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton’s new homeless navigation centre deemed success'
Edmonton’s new homeless navigation centre deemed success

In response to the encampments being taken down, the province created a new navigation and support centre to connect vulnerable Edmontonians with social, health and housing supports. Between Jan. 17 and Feb. 23, more than 380 people have accessed the navigation and support centre, the province said.

Located at the Hope Mission’s Karis Centre on 103rd Avenue and 107th Street, staff provided more than 1,200 referrals and direct connections to services between Jan. 17 and Feb. 23, a spokesperson for the ministry of mental health and addiction told Global News.

Nixon said the province will announce some kind of maintenance or management plan in the near future.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton council’s homeless emergency declaration slammed by Alberta government'
Edmonton council’s homeless emergency declaration slammed by Alberta government

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