While it was late, the government of Alberta’s funding announcement Wednesday detailing more support for emergency homeless shelters and isolation sites was “definitely not too late,” according to Mayor Tyler Gandam.
“We’ll take all the support we can get,” he said Thursday.
“I’m really grateful the province is coming out with the funding for the homeless. I’m looking forward to seeing how that’s going to impact our homeless population and what we can do moving forward for a long-term solution.”
On Wednesday, the province announced it was providing $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.
Of the $21.5 million, $13 million will go towards emergency homeless shelters “in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Lloydminster, Drayton Valley, Leduc, Slave Lake and Wetaskiwin;” $6.5 million for 10 isolation facilities “in Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer, Wetaskiwin, Peace River and Lac La Biche;” and $2 million for emergency women’s shelters.
Gandam is still waiting for details on how much Wetaskiwin will be receiving and how exactly the money will be spent.
The top priority is an emergency shelter.
“The city doesn’t have the means financially to provide a shelter, especially a city our size. We’re just under 13,000 people and per capita we’re dealing with a homeless population that would rival any other big city in North America,” Gandam said.
Several dozen people have been staying at a homeless encampment outside a big box store in Wetaskiwin.
The city was scrambling to find temporary accommodations for the winter months.
Gandam said a $150,000 federal grant plus $35,000 from the city and possible support from the province will fund warming trailers at the site, but that’s a very temporary solution and not intended for daytime use.
“Right now, we’re waiting for trailers for a warming shelter,” the mayor said Thursday.
“Our vulnerable population is currently spending the day in tents in behind Walmart and the Samson outreach team is transporting them back and forth between Wetaskiwin and Maskwacis. They’ve got an overnight shelter there that they’ve been utilizing the last two nights.”
In addition to addressing the immediate shelter need over the winter months, Gandam is hoping Wetaskiwin will be part of Alberta’s long-term plans for a housing solution.
“We still need ongoing collaboration and conversations with the government of Alberta and the federal government to make sure we find a long-term solution for the vulnerable population.
“If we’re not addressing the root of the problem, if we’re not looking after the mental health and addictions, then no amount of money and no amount of supports that we’re going to have for our homeless population or for our shelter is going to change anything. It’s going to be a homeless shelter forever, with no end in sight.”
The city simply doesn’t have the capacity — or the resources — to address this issue on its own, Gandam stressed.
“That’s why it’s so important that the province is coming with the money for the homeless population. We need to be in those conversations and we need to be getting the supports from them as well.”
Last winter, he said a social agency ran a hub and shelter in the civic building downtown. They saw between 60 to 70 people a night at that shelter space, Gandam said.
“If we see those kinds of numbers again this winter, without the supports in place from the government of Alberta or the federal government, we’re going to be at a loss and there’s going to be people that are going to be desperate trying to find shelter.”