Edmonton’s homeless population continues to increase and so does the number of calls regarding homeless encampments.
According to the City of Edmonton, the number of complaints received through 311 has increased steadily over the last several years, rising from 1,344 complaints in 2017 to 6,693 complaints in 2021 and 5,693 complaints so far in 2022.
Compared to this time last year, there has been 25 per cent more encampment complaints this year.
“Encampments are a symptom of Edmonton’s shortage of safe, adequate and affordable housing and shelter capacity challenges,” city spokesperson Noor Al-Henedy said in a statement.
City councillors have been considering solutions to tackling the issue.
Council approved a one-time $860,000 increase for 2022 to focus its encampment response for known hotspots, Al-Henedy said, and Social Development allocated existing funding to add additional outreach and housing workers for the remainder of the year.
In June, Councillor Anne Stevenson put forward a motion directing administration to prepare a report on how the city could manage its own small-scale encampments. In the end, the idea did not proceed.
“This summer has been more of the same, unfortunately,” Stevenson said in an interview last week.
“This summer is actually looking like we’re going to exceed the number of calls from last summer, which was a precedent at that point, in terms of the number of encampments being called in.”
Stevenson said residents in areas such as Chinatown and Riverdale continue to feel a lot of pressure.
“The concentration of encampments — that also has not shifted,” she said.
One positive change, according to Stevenson, is fewer of the encampments are being considered “high risk,” meaning there is less of an urgency to dismantle them and outreach workers have time to work with campers to provide support.
“I think that’s involved a lot more working with the residents to see how we can make it safer in the interim as they work to get connected to services to get into housing,” Stevenson said.
The number of people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton has been growing.
According to numbers from Homeward Trust, 2,745 people are experiencing homelessness this month compared to 2,273 last August and 1,571 in August 2020.
“It has been a challenging time and across Canada we’ve seen an increase in encampments,” said Susan McGee, CEO of Homeward Trust.
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of people who are really not finding the right housing for them. And for us in Edmonton, that’s a need for additional supportive housing.”
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According to Al-Henedy, the city is working with a consultant to conduct community engagement with people, including those with lived experience, front-line staff, neighbours and businesses, to understand existing pressures.