Costly estimate for city-sanctioned encampments in Edmonton raises concerns for one councillor

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Costly city-sanctioned encampments in Edmonton raises concerns for councillor
WATCH ABOVE: The possibility of Edmonton having city-sanctioned encampments this summer to house vulnerable people is now looking out of reach. This comes after city administration crunched the numbers to see what it would cost and the price is much higher than one councillor expected. Chris Chacon reports – Jul 3, 2022

Edmonton is now in the summer months when homeless encampments tend to pop up around the city.

Wanting to help those in need, Ward O-day’min Coun. Anne Stevenson asked administration two weeks ago to see what it would cost for the city to sanction its own camps this summer.

“Administration came back with the report that did delve into what operating some small scale sanctioned encampments would look like and most notable is the significant price tag,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson said the cost to set up and operate small city-run encampments for 60 people for three months is $2.1 million, that includes the costs to pay for an array of social supports and 24/7 security.

A welcome list, but one Stevenson said comes at a price much higher than she anticipated.

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“For that level of investment, we are better off investing in other solutions that have a longer-term impact,” Stevenson said.

She says the report also outlined other options such as tiny home villages, trailers and apartments.

Great alternatives, but ones Stevenson said wouldn’t be in place until possibly next spring.

“I’m disappointed that there’s not more we can do this summer,” Stevenson said. “What’s happening now is not good for anyone.”

Jim Gurnett with the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, said sanctioned encampments are an option that shouldn’t be rejected.

“If (people) are going to be camping and living in these kinds of informal conditions anyway, a sanctioned and supervised place that’s healthier and safer is absolutely a good direction to go,” Gurnett said. “And I believe it can be done successfully.”

Gurnett said if money is the issue, it’s important to determine what the costs are for not choosing this option.

“Two million dollars, lives saved and better healthier communities might be a good investment,” Gurnett said.

Stevenson said she would like to explore lower-cost options when council discusses the motion on Monday.

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But with budget restraints, she doubts this plan will pass with its current price tag.

“It’s a sense of failing Edmontonians, failing folks in our community that are in need of housing which is a very basic thing that we are all entitled to,” Stevenson said.

If sanctioned encampments are a no-go, Stevenson said she’d like to put more of a focus on getting people living in tents into permanent supportive housing.

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