Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson has written a letter to Premier Jason Kenney asking for an annual funding commitment to provide wrap-around support services for Edmonton’s most vulnerable.
Earlier this week, Iveson announced the city plans to use $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.
The 24/7 relief space will use a city-owned facility to bring people off the streets and out of the encampments that have been set up in the city in recent months. The accommodations are meant to be temporary as the city works to open more bridge housing and longer-term options for the city’s homeless.
In a letter dated Wednesday, Iveson asked Kenney to commit $17.4 million in annual operating funding to offset the cost of rent supplements and on-site health and social services for the 600 units of new supportive housing.
“In this model, private non-profit agencies operate the sites and engage other service providers to ensure the supports are available to help people recover from physical, mental and substance use disorders contributing to, and exacerbated by, chronic homelessness,” Iveson wrote in the letter on behalf of city council, Homeward Trust and other housing providers.
Iveson said he is also seeking federal-provincial cooperation to enable community housing providers to acquire, repair and retrofit available buildings and deploy modular construction methods to rapidly increase the supply of affordable housing for those experiencing homelessness.
The mayor said Edmonton is facing a crisis in homelessness and increasing social disorder that has escalated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global oil price crash.
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He said despite housing over 1,000 people in March, the city’s overall homelessness numbers have continued to rise. The city estimates 180 new people are entering homelessness each month.
“Without dramatic intervention, the number of people forced into homelessness by the pandemic and Alberta’s economic crisis will continue to grow,” Iveson said.
“I cannot overstate the urgent need to address these matters in the coming weeks.”
During the COVID-19 shutdown in the spring, the city’s homeless and those living rough were able to obtain services at the temporary drop-in day shelter at the Edmonton Expo Centre. But after the shelter closed, Iveson noted many people returned to the streets, to camps or to other “unsafe or disruptive circumstances.”
“In the midst of the pandemic, the 170 tents within Camp Pekiwewin create a significant health challenge that will be further complicated by freezing conditions,” Iveson noted of the homeless encampment in the Rossdale neighbourhood.
“With rising cases of COVID-19 in the city, there is also risk for a potential COVID-19 outbreak in the encampment or in shelters, such as the recent outbreak at Hope Mission.”
NDP Seniors and Housing critic Lori Sigurdson said in a statement that the UCP must step up and answer the mayor’s call.
“Our economic recovery requires investment in housing,” Sigurdson wrote. “In his recent letter, mayor Iveson makes an economic argument on how supporting affordable housing saves costs in government. More than just saving money, this will save lives. These reasons are enough to act. But Jason Kenney and the UCP have shown no political will to deal with housing and homelessness. Instead, they have cut rental assistance and maintenance funding while giving away $4.7 billion to corporations.”
Iveson said he hopes to meet with Kenney soon to discuss the matter.