This summer Edmonton saw staggering numbers of homeless people and encampments all over the city, and with the official head count on its way, there still doesn’t seem to be a solid plan for what’s to come when the weather gets cold.
Homeward Trust is conducting a homeless point-in-time population count Wednesday night through to Thursday to get a better sense of how many people are living on the city’s streets.
“This count is one of many contributing data points we use to understand the scope of homelessness in Edmonton,” spokesperson Catherine Bangel said in a statement Wednesday morning. “It is an important measure that is done by cities across the country to help the federal government understand how to approach homelessness on a national level.”
The provincial government is responsible for funding emergency shelters and supports for the homeless population and works in partnership with the City of Edmonton and organizations, including Homeward Trust and the Hope Mission, which serves as one of the city’s largest shelters.
“Alberta’s government gives Homeward Trust Edmonton over $29 million to operate more than 400 supportive housing units, this will include the new ones opening this year,” said Alberta’s Minister of Community and Social Services Jason Luan in a statement to Global News.
“We also provide more than $11 million to homeless shelters in Edmonton to operate over 620 emergency shelter beds and over 300 short-term/long-term supportive beds.”
Temporary emergency shelters were funded during the pandemic as the city saw a staggering rise in its homeless population, however, those sites have now been closed. Still, with the extra beds, there was a shortage of space for those in need last winter.
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According to data from Homeward Trust, 2,745 people experienced homelessness last month. Out of this number, “roughly 1,200 are either unsheltered or staying in emergency shelters,” said Brent Wittmeier, a spokesperson for the city’s affordable housing unit.
Last year, the city provided two emergency shelter spaces, which were funded by the provincial government and run by local social service organizations — one in the Spectrum building and one at Commonwealth Stadium. But new obstacles prevent these spaces from being used as shelters again this year.
“At this time, the city does not anticipate that either of these buildings will be available for temporary shelter spaces this year. There are some infrastructure challenges with the Spectrum building, and Commonwealth Stadium is only available for a limited time,” said Wittmeier.
According to Angie Staines, founder of 4B Harm Reduction Society — a mobile outreach group, there are never enough shelter beds to support the community.
Staines, alongside her team, walks the streets of the downtown core supplying harm reduction supplies to drug users. Last year she saw winter encampments and people sleeping in doorways — the same as the summer scene. And people are still healing physical wounds brought on by frostbite and other extreme weather-related injuries, she said.
“These people already have so much risk,” Staines said of the lack of a transparent winter plan for the community.
The solution, Staines says, is to have more shelter beds and include a safe consumption site within the shelter for drug users so they don’t lose their beds. There also needs to be more warming stations and washrooms around the city for people who are on the streets, she said.
The city, Wittmeier said, works throughout the year with more than 25 homeless-serving organizations to coordinate services. And the city is expanding its efforts of working with the province and Homeward Trust to “anticipate this winter’s emergency shelter demand and to develop potential responses to ongoing shelter capacity challenges.”
It just needs to happen before winter hits, Staines said.
“These people are going to be left out in the cold, again. We can’t wait until December again.”