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If ‘Not In My Back Yard’, then where? Edmonton talks homelessness

EDMONTON – ‘Not In My Back Yard’: That’s the mentality a number of individuals and organizations are hoping to change when it comes to getting people off the streets of Edmonton and into supportive housing.

Dozens of people came together Saturday to discuss homelessness in the city, at a forum hosted by the Citadel Theatre. Among those in attendance was McCauley resident Georgina Fiddler.

“It’s a distressed neighbourhood, for sure,” she said. “You could call it a war zone in the summer, it really is. You encounter anything from somebody sleeping in your doorway, somebody’s gotten sick in the middle of the night, you can hear screaming and yelling.”

The forum was held to discuss the challenges the city is facing when it comes to ending homelessness, and how best to tackle those issues.

Fiddler believes supportive housing needs to be more widespread, rather than concentrated in a few Edmonton neighbourhoods.

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“Residents in McCauley recognize the need for housing for everybody, but we cannot concentrate it in one area because you create chaos. And that’s what’s happening now.”

Funding is another issue the city is facing. But one of the biggest issues social services organizations say they’re facing is the “NIMBY” mentality.

“I think just about everybody agrees, in principle, until it comes to their neighbourhood that it makes sense to distribute this around rather than have it over-concentrated,” Mayor Don Iveson explained. “How do you keep the positivity about the fact that this is good for the city and helpful for these individuals?”

The issue was brought to the forefront in 2013, when a 60-unit supportive housing project was met with resistance from many Terwillegar residents.

READ MORE: Proposed homeless housing development concerns some Terwillegar residents

While the plug was eventually pulled on the project, concerned residents said their biggest issue with the housing was that they weren’t informed about it early enough.

“We all look at this as just a confrontation exercise and there isn’t enough of a sense that the conversation will lead to resolution,” said David Berger, Deputy Executive Director of Boyle Street Community Services.

“If we’re just stuck fighting about where the housing is going to go and not actually dealing with these hard-to-house individuals, we’re not going to make progress,” added Iveson.

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READ MORE: Anglican Diocese scraps current housing project in Terwillegar

Members at the forum Saturday say they would like to see more open conversations, more public consultation happening right from the concept stage of these types of projects.

“To talk about what we’re proposing to bring to a neighbourhood and start to talk about the issues that are a concern and how the project is going to be operated,” Berger said. “The conversation then goes to a panel, an independent panel of wise-heads in Edmonton, people who can’t be pigeonholed in one group or another.”

And with the city four years in to its 10-year plan to end homelessness, Iveson says discussions like this can only help reach that goal.

“A lot of things have to come together for us to actually meet the goal. But as long as we’re making continual progress, that’s better than sliding sideways.”

With files from Cheryl Oates, Global News.

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