Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said there is additional urgency to end homelessness as a result of the economic downturn and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The mayor has set an ambitious goal of ending homeless in Edmonton before this winter.
“We want a 10-week plan to end Edmonton homelessness,” Iveson said on Thursday.
To accomplish that goal, Iveson is requesting funding from the federal government for infrastructure and services.
“I would like immediate action and leadership from the federal government, which I think can come to the table with infrastructure dollars to build or, in the short term, acquire units,” Iveson said Thursday.
The mayor is optimistic the federal government will meet his requests because of its “tremendous responsiveness and willingness” to support Edmonton’s needs in assisting vulnerable people in the past.
“There’s an opportunity to act swiftly, to deliver the government’s priorities in their national housing strategy, provide suitable housing for people, achieve reconciliation, in many cases, with the over-representation of Indigenous peoples,” Iveson said.
On Thursday, council was told there were about 1,500 people who were homeless in the city and a new estimate suggests the number has risen to about 1,900 people.
Some of those individuals are living in a river valley encampment.
“We want to provide those living in the encampment with supportive housing and we want to see that happen in the short term.”
Iveson said he’s working with other mayors on presenting proposals on ending homelessness to the Trudeau government in the coming days.
The Edmonton mayor also wants the federal government to demand the Alberta government support the initiative.
“Bring pressure to bear on the provinces to fund within their jurisdiction the support services, which the evidence continually shows will save provincial governments money in their jurisdiction around health and justice,” he said.
Iveson believes the Edmonton business community can play an important role as well in ending homelessness in the city.
“I think that pressure from the business community is beginning to get through federally and provincially as well,” he said.
“I would just encourage those voices to continue to advocate as they have to us to federal and provincial audiences that we need a better answer.”
City council heard on Thursday the possibility of housing those in the homeless community in hotels that are being underutilized, as well as trailers and work camps as a temporary solution.
The idea of “bridge housing” has been discussed at city hall previously. The concept is viewed as a middle step where individuals are provided temporary housing while they work towards something permanent.