The city is tracking around 80 encampments in Calgary and the number of people sleeping rough in the city has gone up in the past year.
“There are more individuals falling on hard times and struggling with increases in cost of living,” said Shaundra Bruvall, communications manager with the Alpha House Society.
“We have seen that as part of the reason we would see more individuals sleeping rough.”
She said the group has helped about 1,000 people sleeping in camps over the past year.
Alpha House has an encampment team that works with Calgary bylaw officers to connect with individuals who are sleeping rough.
“We will reach out to them and to talk them about connections to medical appointments and housing,” Bruvall said. “We would do a questionnaire that would allow them to get on a waitlist for affordable housing.”
Part of the problem, according to Bruvall and the city’s chief bylaw officer, is the lack of affordable housing.
“That’s the challenge right now. I think there’s an expectation that there’s an enforcement solution to this challenge and we really need to look at this more holistically and recognize that this is a health-care issue and a housing crisis issue as much as it is a community safety issue,” said Ryan Pleckaitis, Calgary’s chief bylaw officer.
He said government investments would go a long way when it comes to encampment problems.
According to the city, there were a total of 3,439 encampment service requests in Calgary in 2021.
“I think it’s important that we get support from our provincial and federal partners so we have the infrastructure in place to be able to move people into suitable housing,” Pleckaitis said.
He said in some locations, if there isn’t housing available and there’s no public safety issues, the individual will be allowed to shelter in place.
The province says that this year’s Capital Plan allocates $281 million over three years to provide 2,300 affordable housing units across Alberta.
Minister of Community and Social Services Jason Luan said in a statement that the department provides more than $42 million annually to the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) to support vulnerable Albertans.
“Homeless shelters do critical work supporting some of Alberta’s most vulnerable people. At this time, Calgary has not requested any additional supports.
“Alberta’s government will work with our community and cross-ministry partners to ensure shelter and supports are available to any vulnerable Calgarian in need.”
Luan said this year more than $31 million is being provided to operate five adult emergency shelters, two family shelters and four short-term/long-term supportive housing facilities in Calgary.
“Alberta’s government also continues to honour all previous capital commitments, including more than $32 million for two Calgary projects to build 127 housing units for Albertans in need and to keep existing units in good condition.
“Capital Plan 2022 allocates $281 million over three years to provide 2,300 new and regenerated affordable housing units across Alberta, specific projects under Capital Plan 2022 are being finalized,” Luan said.
Pleckaitis said it’s important that the needs of unhoused individuals are understood and addressed.
“It’s really about understanding the individuals’ needs and making sure that we have the right infrastructure in place to be able to take care of them.
“It’s unfortunate that we don’t have housing units available for people in need. I think that’s a big piece of the puzzle,” Pleckaitis said.
He said there has been an increase in the number of people in homeless camps in Calgary recently.
“In the summertime, that number could get closer to 300. That’s quite a significant jump from what it was in 2019 pre-pandemic.
“There are lots of reasons for that. The pandemic has obviously had some influence,” Pleckaitis said. “There’s economic factors that are driving some of those numbers and of course unfortunately the use of opioids and fentanyl. There are more individual suffering from severe addiction issues.”