The city of Edmonton is taking the next step in its efforts to combat homelessness. Council’s executive committee was told Monday that the city plans on purchasing as many as four apartments to create supportive housing for those on the street, especially those battling addictions.
City staff are still working through the logistics, including checking their own inventory of land, director of housing and homelessness Cristel Kjenner said. Purchasing existing properties is part of what they’re looking at.
She told reporters the ultimate fit for size — and ability to provide services — is 30-unit buildings.
More than 300 individuals are living hard on the streets, the committee was told.
“There is a population of people that are not being served by the shelters and so more and more of that is falling into the city’s lap as we find people camping in the river valley,” Kjenner told reporters.
“We are definitely open to entertaining ways that the city can support finding something even quicker and that’s where specifically the purchase of existing buildings might be considered as a strategy.”
Kjenner said those four sites will likely be identified early in the New Year.
By then, they’ll also be able to report back to city council on ways to add to the inventory.
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“That includes things like looking at our zoning bylaws, making land available, making small grants available,” she said.
“Updating our affordable housing investment plan — which is coming later this year — is also looking at how do we support this on an ongoing basis?
“We know it goes beyond the next four sites. To get up to the 916 units, it’s going to require a commitment from all orders of government for the next number of years.”
The committee heard that the city has heard more complaints annually of tent locations — both in the downtown and in the river valley parks.
In 2016, the city spent $1.7 million cleaning up camps. The amount of complaints has grown since then to over 1,400 this year.
“It’s undeniable the number of calls and complaints that the city is getting in terms of those living rough in our parkland. That’s very real and we can’t deny that.”
That’s why she’s happy with the city’s next steps.
“We don’t drive by somebody that’s been in an accident and tell them to wait a couple of years until we come and help them. Yes, we have to have an urgent response. We have to have something different now and I know we are working on it. The city’s working on that but it’s certainly not easy.”
On the political side, more data is being compiled to argue for increased investment from the province.
It’s an effort to compare the cost of providing supportive housing to that of a hospital bed, for instance.
Mayor Don Iveson told the committee the last he’s heard a hospital bed costs $8,112 a night. Freeing up just 11 beds would pay for operating costs of the new permanent supportive housing plan.
Councillor Scott McKeen added: “One out of every two people showing up at the Royal Alex — these are stats from them — are homeless or street-involved with multiple issues and if they’re admitted, the average stay is 66 days.
Similar numbers have been shared with the police commission, of which McKeen is a member.
“If we do it well, we’ll save tens of millions of dollars in Edmonton every year,” he said.
“Most of those savings will go to the provincial government. That’s fine.”
McKeen pointed to Ambrose Place as a prime example, but there are others.
“You saw that $4.7 million figure, represented by one facility. On top of that, is reduced calls for service for police.”
He said he’s frustrated and wishes everyone could just get in the same room and finally make the argument to put funding in place.
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