New supportive housing building opens in northeast Edmonton

Homeward Trust Edmonton holds a grand opening for Balwin Place, Tuesday, April 17, 2018. .
Homeward Trust Edmonton holds a grand opening for Balwin Place, Tuesday, April 17, 2018. . Cliff Harris, Global News

A new housing unit has opened in Edmonton to provide a home for those dealing with homelessness.

Homeward Trust Edmonton’s Balwin Place opened in northeast Edmonton at 66 Street and 128 Avenue Tuesday morning.

“Balwin is one of those projects that is specifically designed for those individuals that have really struggled with homelessness for a long time,” Homeward Trust Edmonton CEO Susan McGee said.

“For every one of those individuals that are here, their alternative was likely the street.”

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The new permanent supportive housing project provides 25 new rental units for people dealing with homelessness. The facility combines affordable units with onsite supports.

“We have confirmed that housing first is the way to go, but we have also learned along the way that you actually need the right kind of units, the right kind of supports for people to be successful,” Mayor Don Iveson said.

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READ MORE: More operating money needed to end homelessness, Edmonton councillors told

McGee said Balwin Place is a unique project because of the involvement of various partners.

“Alberta Health Services has been key in designing and informing the program model,” she said. “We have (George) Spady Society providing supports onsite, but they work very closely with Alberta Health Services to ensure a full range of complex issues can be addressed for any one of the community members that are here.”

The Alberta government committed $4 million to the project and will provide $1 million every year to support its operation.

READ MORE: Updated plan sets sights on ending chronic homelessness in Edmonton by 2022

Last July, Homeward Trust and the City of Edmonton released an updated plan to chronic and episodic homelessness by 2022.

Iveson stressed the importance of spreading supportive housing, rather than building it all in the centre of the city.

“To put the 1,000 units of supportive housing that we know are needed all in the core neighbourhoods is probably not appropriate,” he said.

“Council unanimously said, ‘We believe in the idea of distributing affordable housing – including housing for our most vulnerable Edmontonians – around the city rather than continuing to risk over-concentrating it in the centre of the city.”

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When the project was initially announced, it was met with resistance from those who said northeast Edmonton was already overpopulated with this type of development.

READ MORE: Demand for affordable housing in Edmonton more than triples since fall 2014

The original 10-year strategy to end homelessness was launched in 2009. While strides were made on the original plan, the city and Homeward Trust said some areas were not resourced to the level it required.

“We’ve made great strides … but there are individuals who just aren’t maintaining their housing without more support, 24/7 staffing models,” McGee said.

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“This is one of those projects – we need many more of them – but it’s one of those projects for those individuals that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to serve in our community.”

The new plan sets several goals, including housing an additional 4,000 homeless people between April 2017 and March 2020.

Homeward Trust has housed over 7,100 people since 2009.

The report also said $30 million per year in additional operational funding will be needed to ramp up the new system. Currently, $35 million per year is being spent.

While additional funding is needed, the city estimates $230 million will be saved over 10 years when it comes to costs for health care, emergency services, police and other resources.

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