Affordable housing a hot topic at Edmonton’s latest homeless connect

EDMONTON — From haircuts and dental care, to a hot meal and information about employment, more than 450 volunteers and service providers came together this weekend to offer free essential services to Edmonton’s at-risk population.

The 15th Homeless Connect Edmonton was held at the Shaw Conference Centre Sunday. Upwards of 1,700 of homeless or at-risk of being homeless Edmontonians received services, including eye care and pre-natal services.

Organizers of the event, which is held twice a year – in the spring and fall, said their mission is to provide services that will provide outlets out of homelessness. It’s also to make vulnerable Edmontonians aware of the services available to them.

“People know the resources that are out there is one of the biggest things. So, knowing that there is free dental, free counselling, employment services, housing services out there, awareness of what the resources are is a big trend,” said Kent McLeod, co-chair of the Homeless Connect Steering Committee.

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READ MORE: Progress made, but much work remains to end homelessness in Edmonton

According to the most recent count, there are about 2,300 homeless people in Edmonton. While that number is down from the peak in 2008, when there were 4,500 people living on the streets, 16 per cent of the city’s homeless are new to Edmonton. Those with Homeward Trust Edmonton said it showcases the need for more affordable housing in the city.

“Housing individuals and working with them to get apartments that are affordable to them in the long run is very, very challenging,” said Susan McGee, CEO of Homeward Trust Edmonton.

“That’s always going to be a need. Our vacancy rate is quite low; it’s one of the lowest in Canada so affordable housing and availability of housing is a huge issue,” added McLeod.

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Between 2006 and 2011, the city built over 3,000 affordable housing units. But with upwards of 30,000 new people coming to Edmonton each year, the city said it’s struggling to keep up with the demand. And even though affordable housing is subsidized, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Edmonton is $1,225 a month. A one-bedroom apartment runs about $1,000 per month.

“There’s a lot of misnomers. We talk a lot about homeless but it’s also about people who are at risk of being homeless,” said McLeod. “It’s not just the inner city, it’s not just people that are down and out; it’s people that are underemployed that aren’t making their bills and all of a sudden they’re at risk of being homeless.”

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READ MORE: Vacancy rates and rent rising in Alberta

Earlier this year, the City of Edmonton drafted a new affordable housing strategy it hopes will guide the city for the next 10 years.

Other services offered at Sunday’s event include child care as well as phone and internet access.