City councillors voted unanimously Thursday to keep the temporary pandemic shelter at the Edmonton Convention Centre open until the end of April.
The temporary shelter accommodations at Edmonton Convention Centre — Tipinawâw — opened at the end of October.
Tipinawâw is being run by the city, Boyle Street Community Services, The Mustard Seed, Bissell Centre and the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society. It was initially expected to remain open until March 31.
Earlier this week, a city committee recommended the temporary 24/7 housing remain open until April 30. The recommendation, which includes a $2.2-million funding boost, was approved by council Thursday morning.
Mayor Don Iveson said the shelter space is not a permanent solution, but it is essential the city provide the service for an emergency relief purpose during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This was never the business the city wanted to be in and never the model the city has supported,” he said during the council meeting.
“This is the biggest box of Band-Aids we’ve ever bought for a challenge that does have a cure.
“We need to be in the Band-Aid business for another month here, but we really need to optimize the use of all public resources across all orders of government to invest in the cure.”
The mayor said more work needs to be done to provide suitable supports and options to people experiencing homelessness, including more bridge housing and permanent supportive housing.
“We need a slightly more bespoke approach for meeting different people where their needs are at in different parts of the city.”
During the city’s emergency advisory committee meeting Wednesday, city manager Andre Corbould said planning is underway on alternative locations to replace the city’s temporary shelters.
Last week, the mayor was outspoken in his disappointment that the Alberta budget did not lay out more funding for supportive housing.
“For a budget focused on health, recovery and finding savings, I am confounded and disappointed the province is still not prepared to work with Edmonton on supportive housing,” the mayor said in a statement after the budget was tabled Thursday.
“We have evidence that housing reduces costs to health, justice and law enforcement budgets – right when the province needs to find these efficiencies the most.”
Alberta’s 2021 budget sets aside $209 million for housing as well as family and social supports. The government expects to spend just over half, about $110 million, in 2021-22.
The government has promised new funding for 500 shelter spaces in Edmonton and Red Deer.
“More shelters are not the solution,” Iveson said last week, “and will not get the health-care cost savings associated with proper housing.
“The government of Alberta’s failure to work with Edmonton on supportive housing for vulnerable people, a failure to follow evidence showing the substantial savings in areas of provincial jurisdiction like healthcare, is truly frustrating for the people experiencing homelessness during a pandemic.”
The mayor said Edmonton was asking the province for $5.9 million in 2021 to operate the supportive housing units that the city and federal government are already building using funds from the Rapid Housing Initiative.
With files from Emily Mertz, Global News.