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Edmonton to create new homelessness plan as deaths skyrocket

Click to play video: 'Edmonton creating new homelessness plan as deaths increase'
Edmonton creating new homelessness plan as deaths increase
A new plan is expected to be released in June to guide the City of Edmonton in its efforts to end homelessness. Breanna Karstens-Smith has the details. – May 21, 2024

The City of Edmonton is about to release a new plan in its efforts to end homelessness but it comes as council gets troubling new data about the number of people who have died.

The Community and Public Services committee received a report Tuesday which detailed the number of deaths of people with no fixed address.

According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the number of deaths of people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton increased from 30 people in 2017 to 302 people in 2023.

The numbers aren’t comparable because data collection on the subject improved in 2022, but councillors still expressed their concern.

“If there were 300 to 400 people dying in traffic accidents, there would be uproar in our city. If there were 300 to 400 murders on our streets, people would be at our doors at city hall until something changed,” Ward Nakota Isga Councillor Andrew Knack told the committee, pointing out that instead, the chamber was empty Tuesday.

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“I cannot fathom the level of heartlessness or cluelessness that has to be employed to turn a blind eye to this kind of suffering,” Ward Dene Councillor Aaron Paquette said as part of an emotional speech to committee.

“I am at my wit’s end on what we can do as a council to get this message across.”

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In 2006, Edmonton’s 10-year plan to reduce homelessness was implemented. It did reduce the number of people on city streets in the timeline, cutting the number in half.

But 2017 saw the trend reverse. The pandemic erased any progress that had been made, doubling the number of people experiencing homelessness in the city.

Currently, Homeward Trust estimates there are 3,200 people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton.

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Now, the city says a new plan is needed. Homeward Trust is working on a guideline that will be used.

It says up to 1,700 new supportive housing units, 250 transitional units and 600 caseload spaces are needed over the next five years.

Councillors are repeating a familiar call for action to the province to fulfill those needs.

“Where is that provincial detailed plan that shows how these number of units will be built, when they will be built, where they will be built, how will they be operated?” Knack said Tuesday.

“We can have the greatest plan in the world — and there are a lot of great things in the plan — but the plan identifies the number of units that need to be built.”

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The city has set aside $183 million in the current four-year budget cycle for housing units.

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Advocate Nadine Chalifoux spoke to committee Tuesday and said finger pointing needs to stop and real discussions need to start.

“Like every plan that they put out, it’s always missing something because they’re not doing enough consultation with the public, with the people involved, with the lived experience folks,” Chalifoux told Global News.

She said there needs to be a greater focus on transitional housing in Edmonton.

The full homelessness plan will be released in June.

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