As the City of Edmonton moves ahead with plans to open temporary housing for the city’s homeless at the Edmonton Convention Centre, an end date has not been set for a homeless encampment in the Rossdale neighbourhood.
Interim city manager Adam Laughlin provided an update to councillors Thursday afternoon on the city’s continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which included plans to provide housing to those living rough in the city.
The city has ramped up efforts to address the homelessness issue in recent weeks after large encampments were established in the Rossdale and Old Strathcona areas.
Laughlin said plans are well underway to offer housing at the convention centre in the downtown core, with a goal of opening the temporary pandemic housing on Oct. 30. Upwards of 300 beds will eventually be set up at the convention centre for those living rough, along with daily meals, as well as access to showers, storage and washrooms.
Councillor Scott McKeen said he’s heard from area businesses who have safety concerns related to the temporary shelter location. Laughlin noted the location was chosen because of its proximity to where the majority of those living rough are located.
He said “safety is paramount in these efforts and we have been in talks with EPS to develop plans for public safety” around the convention centre.
While Laughlin said that organizers of the encampment at Light Horse Park in Old Strathcona have committed to an Oct. 18 end date, an end date has not been established for Camp Pekiwewin in Rossdale.
The city said communication continues with organizers of Camp Pekiwewin.
“I think it’s been a unique situation,” Laughlin said. “We haven’t experienced something like this before in terms of a protest situation turning into what we have out there today. Through the discussions with the camp organizers and the folks who are at the site, it was obvious there was a concern related to access to the necessary supports for the folks in the situation of living rough.
“In terms of a specific date, it’s tough to set that because it requires the services to be activated at the convention centre and as we’ve said, we’re working very hard to make sure that that’s set up as quickly as possible so we can accommodate a peaceful transition into that facility, working with the organizers and with the agencies that are cued up to support us in that effort.”
Mayor Don Iveson noted that the camp was initially set up after the emergency day shelter at the Edmonton Expo Centre closed in late July. The expo centre was used at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to offer access to a bed, laundry, meals and showers. Spiritual and housing support was also provided, along with pet supplies.
Iveson said organizers of Camp Pekiwewin have “expressed some skepticism about the city’s commitment to safe and dignified housing.”
“Fundamentally, when I went down to the camp at the invitation of one of the elders a couple of weeks ago and actually talked to people about what they needed — the people on the ground, not necessarily what’s coming through formally in terms of demands — what did the human beings there need? They needed their city to house them, to give them shelter and to make sure that shelter — both short-term at the conference centre and longer-term in the bridge housing and the supportive housing — needed to be safe, needed to meet their mental health challenges, needed to support them in recovering from their addictions,” he said.
“So we are committed to meeting those needs with wraparound services, with agency partners who do awesome work, as quickly as we can.”
Also Thursday, the city said staff from Boyle Street Community Services have started meeting with those who have been living at the Light Horse Park homeless encampment, to offer them short-term, temporary housing after it shuts down next week.
“We are committed to ensuring that vulnerable Edmontonians have a diversity of supports from which to choose,” said Jared Tkachuk, acting director of programs with Boyle Street Community Services.
“The important partnership with the City of Edmonton will bolster our existing outreach services and ensure those sleeping rough in Light Horse Park are provided services that have the potential to create lasting success.”
Laughlin said Boyle Street staff will continue to work with people from the camp, to get as many of them housed as possible by the end of the month. If by the end of the month people are still at the encampment, Laughlign said enforcement action will be taken.
“That’s something that we don’t want to do,” he said, hoping for a “smooth transition.”
The city said about 180 Edmontonians are becoming homeless every month. Right now, there are about 2,000 people experiencing homelessness, with 600 sleeping outside or unsheltered on any given night – including nearly 45 at Light Horse Park.
The city said its temporary pandemic housing at the Edmonton Convention Centre will remain open until March.