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Edmonton councillor turning to business community instead of province for housing help

The city says there is still much work to be done in order to end chronic homelessness in Edmonton by 2019.
The city says there is still much work to be done in order to end chronic homelessness in Edmonton by 2019. Global News

Fed up with what he calls a lack of action from the province, Councillor Scott McKeen has put out the call to Edmonton’s business community to get a plan in place to build supportive housing.

The idea is to bring together land developers, builders, private financing folks and others who have a history of what McKeen calls “quiet philanthropy and contributions to city building and city life” to create a housing model that will save lives, protect small business districts and save tax money.

McKeen is reluctant to name names at this point with the meeting planned for the end of the month.

“We’re saying ‘we think you have the expertise and the experience to do this efficiently,’ so we’re going to tap into them,” he said to Global News. “We’re going to ask the finance people, ‘are there creative ways to finance this?'”

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READ MORE: Edmonton budget submission to province documents cost savings through supportive housing

“The federal government, we believe is going to help out. The one agency that has indicated no interest in participating, though they should be constitutionally, is the provincial government. So we’re going to go with out them. We just have to.”

In September of 2019, city council sent the provincial government a pre-budget submission that proposed $124 million in construction costs for 900 units of supportive housing over six years. Also in the proposal was operating grants for medical supports to ramp up through 2026, to $24 million a year.

Shuttle between EXPO and Kinsmen for vulnerable population
Shuttle between EXPO and Kinsmen for vulnerable population

The accompanying documentation from 2007-2008 cited stats from Homeward Trust on the savings in direct medical costs in the hospital system that said since 2009 more than 8.400 people have been housed and homelessness reduced by 43 per cent for a savings of an estimated $920 million.

READ MORE: Homeless camps set up in downtown Edmonton raise questions over safe spaces for less fortunate

The proposal would have had city land used, while federal money worth $80 over six years would have built 150 units a year from 2021 through 2026 for a total capital cost of $241 million.

McKeen is confident there is interest from Alberta Health Services, in part because the AHS board has visited Amrose Place, a supportive housing operation in the McAuley area of his downtown ward.

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“They get it. It saves money. It reduces demand on hospitals. It reduces demand on paramedics. It reduces demand on emergency rooms. And it brings health to these people who keep returning the emergency room because of mental and physical health challenges,” he said.

Shortage of supplies affecting Edmonton’s vulnerable homeless population
Shortage of supplies affecting Edmonton’s vulnerable homeless population

“There’s soldiers homeless on our streets. They got there for a reason. It’s not because they’re partying. The clear evidence, or the clearer evidence, is that adverse childhood events or some kind of lifetime trauma or traumas can add up to the point where you are in psychological pain and you are self medicating,” McKeen said.

McKeen said the hope is to bring everyone together at the end of May.

Global News has reached out to the provincial government for comment. This story will be updated if one is received.