Mayor Don Iveson announced Monday that the city would be using $8 million from Edmonton’s share of federal restart funding to open and run a new centre to support homeless and vulnerable people by the end of the month.
Iveson said the city-run centre will be operated “as a low-barrier, 24/7 accommodation space, with day programming and meal service space that will run until March next year.”
The $8 million in funding was taken out of a lump sum of just under $160 million that was allocated to the city through the federal Safe Restart Agreement.
Through that plan, the federal government provided $300 million to municipalities in Alberta to help through the COVID-19 economic relaunch, and the provincial government was also required to match that municipal amount.
“We are using one-time dollars that the feds and the province gave to us in response to our sustained campaign for support for municipalities,” Iveson said.
“Edmonton taxpayers are not directly paying for this through their property tax dollars.”
Iveson added that while the city had hoped to announce the exact location for the centre, some paperwork issues meant that detail will not be released for a few days. However, he said the centre should be operational by the end of October.
“We want to do this as soon as possible because it is the humane thing to do, and because homelessness and social disorder is detrimental to our economic recovery.”
He also said that while he understands there are some concerns from Edmontonians on social issues that could be created in the area around a large centre like the one planned, the city believes this is the “right thing” to do.
“The alternative is we leave people out on the street, we create this social disorder, we create conditions for the pandemic to run loose in the vulnerable community and overwhelm our healthcare system.
“If you have the right supports, the impacts are much lower than the impacts of homelessness that we see today.”
Iveson said the city will put measures in place to ensure the facility doesn’t create “spillover effects into the community that are unmanageable.”
“Whatever we do here is going to be better than leaving the situation undealt with for another winter, in these economic conditions, with a pandemic. And where we clearly have the opportunity to do the right thing.”
Interim city manager Adam Laughlin said the latest numbers show that since the beginning of the pandemic, about 180 new people become homeless in Edmonton each month.
“The challenge is to keep up with the pressures associated with that continuing rise, especially with the winter months coming,” Laughlin said.
Iveson added the city also has a plan to open up additional bridge housing locations, using $688,000 in additional funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in partnership with the Canadian Medical Association.
Bridge housing is typically used as a temporary home for those waiting for a more permanent place to live.
Iveson said one option currently being explored is using vacant or struggling hotels in Edmonton.
“We’re in active conversations with more than two dozen hotel owners in town here about options to lease or purchase.
“It is a very competitive space with a lot of owners who are facing huge challenges in their businesses.
“We’ve seen just a tremendous response from potential partners — both on the private sector side and also on the agency and philanthropic side — to get this done.”
Iveson added that the city will also work with the provincial government and Alberta Health Services to work out a plan for additional supports, including health and social workers to help staff the centre.
“This will cost them less than what they are spending today at the Remand Centre, and in our hospitals. Having secured and working to secure a pathway out of homelessness, there really is an invitation to work together, all orders of government, to get this done.”