The Alberta government announced Wednesday it will provide $21.5 million for additional beds and isolation sites at emergency homeless shelters and emergency women’s shelters.
The provincial funding will extend COVID-19 supports to shelters until March 2022.
About $13 million of the money would aid 14 shelters to expand space and provide meals, showers, laundry services and access to addictions and mental health services.
Another $6.5 million is to be used to open about 285 isolation spaces in 10 communities, and $2 million would support emergency women’s shelters.
“So that we can create additional space,” Premier Jason Kenney said. “This is what Mayor Sohi asked of us, to help address this acute, immediate need.”
Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi says the funding will help to prevent people from sleeping in the streets as colder temperatures threaten their safety.
In Edmonton, the provincial funding will allow for up to 400 beds at the Herb Jamieson Centre, 125 beds at the Hope Mission’s main building, up to 200 beds at the Spectrum site, 64 beds at the Women’s Emergency Accommodation Centre, 145 beds at the Mustard Seed, 148 beds at the Salvation Army, and up to 200 beds at Commonwealth.
On Tuesday, Edmonton city councillors heard a report that flagged a 350-bed gap in overnight shelter space this winter.
Prior to the pandemic, progress had been made on reducing the number of unhoused people in Edmonton. A city report showed more than 13,000 people have been housed since 2009, and before the pandemic, the number of homeless Edmontonians had fallen to 1,300.
“COVID really, unfortunately, turned that on its head, like so many other things,” Kenney said Wednesday.
However, since the end of 2019, the number of people struggling with homelessness doubled.
Councillors heard there are now about 2,800 people with no permanent home. Local shelters expect to need at least 1,200 beds to make it through the winter.
The city has provided $1.6 million to the Bissell Centre, The Mustard Seed, and Boyle Street Community Services to extend daytime shelter services until the end of 2021. The funds will extend day-service contracts for shelters that were set to expire at the end of November until the end of the year.
The money will allow people to access meals, showers, clothing, laundry, hygiene items and harm-reduction supplies, as well as mental health, addictions, cultural and housing support services. Administration is recommending council spend a total of $3.5 million to extend those day services through winter until April 2022. That request will be deliberated on Nov. 22.
“A quick look outside the window, and you’ll see how important this announcement is to the houseless Edmontonians who were looking for a warm place to sleep during this winter,” Sohi said.
“We have identified the shelter gap in recent meetings with the premier and his ministers, and they have responded by providing emergency funding for the Spectrum shelter, three needed southside shelters and our enhanced capacity emergency shelter at Commonwealth Stadium.
“We welcome this support and look forward to building on this collaboration to find more permanent and sustained solutions to end houselessness in Edmonton,” the mayor said.
The Opposition says the UCP government waited too long to respond and the shortage of shelter space was “inevitable.”
After Wednesday’s announcement, the NDP said the UCP budgeted $60 million less this year for homeless support than they spent last year.
“Agencies and shelters have been working within COVID-19 restrictions and therefore have less space to work with,” the Opposition explained in a news release.
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“Last month, the Alberta NDP called for stable, long term and predictable funding for shelters and agencies, after four shelters closed early this summer in Edmonton.”
The NDP also called on the government to build more affordable housing.
“The UCP have continually ignored requests to work with the City of Edmonton to provide operational funding to build permanent supportive housing,” said Lori Sigurdson, NDP Seniors and Housing critic.
“Instead of building housing, there is a bill in the legislature right now to allow the government to sell Alberta’s affordable housing stock to the highest bidder.”
The province also announced it will provide $1.5 million to activate up to 200 additional shelter beds at Commonwealth Stadium and will support on-site overdose prevention and treatment services.
A task force is being developed to create a homelessness action plan. The task force will include experts and community leaders “to find innovative ways to combat homelessness.”
It will look at “how communities are affected by homelessness. It will also look at developing a model for responding to people with complex needs. Additionally, it will make recommendations that will help create an action plan on homelessness for the province.”
The members of the task force are:
· Patricia Jones (co-chair), Calgary Homeless Foundation
· Dale McFee (co-chair), Edmonton Police Services
· Andre Corbould, City of Edmonton
· Bruce Reith, Hope Mission
· Carol Adair, University of Calgary
· Cheryl Whiskeyjack, Bent Arrow
· Dave Jackson, Lealta Building Supplies
· Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti, University of Alberta
· Earl Thiessen, Oxford House
· Holly Mah, Chinatown and Area Business Association
· Jordan Reiniger, Boyle Street Community Services
· Kathy Christiansen, Alpha House
· Michelle Wilsdon, Enoch Cree Nation
· Sandra Clarkson, Calgary Drop-In Centre (DI)
· Susan McGee, Homeward Trust
· Tricia Smith, Boyle McCauley Health Centre