Councillor calls for a ‘SWAT team’ approach to Edmonton river valley homelessness

Click to play video: 'Edmontonians raise concerns about homeless camps' Edmontonians raise concerns about homeless camps
WATCH ABOVE: Hundreds of people are sleeping in the river valley, choosing the forest floor instead of a shelter. Many homeowners near these camps say it's getting worse and what is left behind makes them fear for their safety. Kendra Slugoski reports – May 9, 2019

After hearing horror stories about the homeless camping in Riverdale and elsewhere, some action is going to happen on a couple of fronts at Edmonton City Hall.

At Wednesday’s community services committee, Councillor Michael Walters called for an action plan to be reviewed by May 22, the next meeting in two weeks after city staff said the problem of people camping in Dawson Park and other locations along the river valley is complex.

READ MORE: 486 sleep homeless in Edmonton river valley while shelter beds go unused

“I don’t think we can immediately end camping in Dawson Park without displacing the group of people that are there into another part of the river valley,” housing director Cristel Kjenner said when pressed by Councillor Scott McKeen.

“It seems to me that is a crisis down there,” McKeen told the meeting after hearing that one west-end organization has wanted to build supportive housing, but has been stuck in the city’s permitting process for a year.

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READ MORE: Edmonton homelessness event aims to build relationships, lift participants out of poverty

A motion by Walters to bring several departments together with a game plan to speed things up was passed unanimously.

“Two weeks from now I want to have a team together of not just our housing section, but people from planning, people from emergency services, people who are from the housing sector that understand innovative approaches to manufacturing housing more quickly,” Walters told reporters.

“Sort of a SWAT team that is designed and built for speed so we don’t hear stories of someone who’s willing to build permanent supportive housing but can’t get a permit because they get hung up, and ensnared in red tape in our planning department.”

READ MORE: Litter from Edmonton homeless encampments an ongoing issue, say residents, city staff

The immediate goal is to get moving on a plan to purchase 600 prefab housing units. Kjenner said something similar has been done in Vancouver, and part of the streamlined effort in this, is there doesn’t have to be a public consultation process. It can all be done through the city manager’s office.

Kjenner also said other longer term efforts are in the works.

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“We can make changes to the zoning bylaw to better enable permanent supportive housing specifically, and affordable housing generally and part of that is looking at an expedited approval process for affordable housing applications.”

The committee was reviewing a report that says 486 people sleep rough in the river valley and elsewhere in the city because they’d rather do that, than go to a large scale homeless shelter.

READ MORE: ‘Living rough’: A glimpse into Edmonton’s river valley homeless

McKeen said there are many complaints about the warehousing done by Hope Mission, because it’s a century-old service model that despite the best efforts of the people who work there, has been a broken system for several years


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