Temporary housing for those experiencing homelessness in the city will open at the Edmonton Convention Centre on Friday.
The city has ramped up efforts to address the homelessness issue in recent weeks and months, after large encampments were established in the Rossdale and Old Strathcona areas. The city estimates about 2,000 people are experiencing homelessness, with 600 sleeping outside or unsheltered on any given night.
The Edmonton Convention Centre will open in a limited capacity at first, but is expected to be able to accommodate up to 300 people for day services and overnight shelter by the end of next week.
The 24/7 accommodation space will be operated by Boyle Street Community Services, The Mustard Seed, Bissell Centre and the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society.
People who stay at the convention centre will also be offered a number of services, including access to mental health, addictions, overdose prevention, Indigenous, cultural and youth support services. Laundry services, showers, enhanced storage opportunities and daily meals will also be provided.
Halls A, B and C on the Assembly Level of the Edmonton Convention Centre will be used for the temporary accommodation, which is slated to be open until the end of March. At 85,000 square feet, the space will allow for physical distancing due to COVID-19.
Those taking advantage of the housing will be screened for COVID-19, according to the city.
In addition to the shelter and services at the convention centre, the city is offering support to the Hope Mission to operate a temporary shelter at Commonwealth Stadium.
Councillors heard Wednesday that the space at Commonwealth has been operating for a few days with more than 100 people staying at the site.
Councillor Scott McKeen said he was “dismayed” to hear about the shelter space at Commonwealth.
“I can’t tell you how dismayed I am to hear that, that this comes to me as a surprise, that an operator who has not operated in the manner that reduces social disorder, has moved into a facility in the ward I represent and the people I represent, with no consultation, no meeting about this,” McKeen said.
“I am absolutely blown away, Mr. Smyth, that this would happen on my watch without some heads-up and some meeting with me about this. I’m really, really frustrated with you and your staff on this. I don’t know what else to say.”
Steven Townsend, president of the Parkdale Cromdale Community League, said the group wants to be part of the solution but also would have liked a heads-up.
“Our communities are pretty heavily loaded right now. We had the Expo Centre, now we’re going to have the bridge housing, we have the Coliseum Inn and now this temporary shelter.
“So you know, there’s only so much a community can bear.”
The space at Commonwealth can accommodate more than 100 people and is expected to be in operation until March.
The city said Thursday the Commonwealth Stadium housing will initially operate as an overnight shelter to replace spaces previously provided at the Central Lions Senior Centre. Hope Mission has plans to move to a 24/7 shelter model at the football stadium.
The Mustard Seed will also expand its shelter and programming for vulnerable populations with a new 24/7 facility on the south side, which is scheduled to open on Nov. 2.
The agencies will operate the temporary accommodation using $8 million in funding from the federal and provincial governments to help municipalities respond to COVID-19. An additional $500,000 will be reallocated from the City of Edmonton’s 2020 budget.