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Adding supportive housing to new fire station in southeast Edmonton under consideration

Click to play video: 'Edmonton councillors look at improving shelters, increasing affordable housing' Edmonton councillors look at improving shelters, increasing affordable housing
Edmonton city councillors got a thorough report Monday on the homelessness situation in the city, which included an innovative idea for new housing units. Breanna Karstens-Smith reports. – Jun 27, 2022

Edmonton city councillors were presented a thorough report Monday on affordable housing, supportive housing and shelters in the city.

The report included an innovative idea to increase access to housing.

Land in southeast Edmonton has already been earmarked for a new fire station at Ellerslie Road and Watt Boulevard in the Walker neighbourhood.

It would be a three-bay fire station with 64 units of supportive housing attached. The land is also big enough for another building, which would offer an additional 48 affordable housing units.

The idea would be to keep services together and capitalize on city infrastructure.

Land in southeast Edmonton that has been earmarked for a new fire station at Ellerslie Road and Watt Boulevard in the Walker neighbourhood, seen on Monday, June 27, 2022. Global News

Administration told councillors similar facilities have been built in other Canadian cities, including Vancouver and Calgary.

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Councillors were told some specific building materials were used, including sound proofing between the fire hall and housing units.

Administration said some sites are seeing people line up to live in them.

A more detailed plan for the building is expected in 2024, with the facility potentially opening in 2027.

Read more: Edmonton looking at managing ‘small-scale’ homeless encampments this summer

Improving shelter services was also identified as a priority Monday.

The City of Edmonton first created the Minimum Emergency Shelter Standards in August 2021. It was meant to remove barriers which were preventing people from accessing shelters spaces and other supports.

Hours, storage and laundry services were all identified as services that needed to be improved.

While the majority of the low and no-cost elements of the plan have been implemented by shelter operators, the city has been told the operators could not introduce the rest without more resources.

Shelters told the city they especially need provincial funding for daily operation and shelter programming.

On Monday, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said there were still issues being identified. For example, the majority of facilities did not have dedicated spaces for couples, or for people to store large belongings like bikes.

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“At this time, people are not being accepted to shelters because of either they have behavior problems or they have a spouse with them or a partner with them. Or, they have a pet or they can’t store their supplies that they have with them or the basic necessities that they carry,” the mayor explained.

Sohi has been in talks with the province to increase such funding, but he says more still needs to be done.

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton has doubled during the pandemic. A city report estimated 50,000 households are currently struggling to afford housing.

Read more: City of Edmonton exceeds affordable housing targets

Over the past winter, there was an average of 801 people accessing shelters each day. That peaked at 1,140 people.

In the summer of 2021, the average access was 484 people per day, peaking at 605 people.

There are 634 permanent emergency shelters spaces in the city funded by the province. The city said provincial funding for services like shelters is expected to be frozen through 2025.

Progress is being made: in February 2021, the city set a goal of approving 2,500 new units of affordable housing by 2022. That goal is on track with 13 sites under development through Edmonton.

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