As Edmonton eyes new approach to dealing with homeless camps, mayor calls on province for support

Click to play video: 'Edmonton mayor calling for provincial support to help address homelessness'
Edmonton mayor calling for provincial support to help address homelessness
Even as the City of Edmonton finds new ways to help people living rough get into permanent homes, the mayor says there is a big roadblock to dealing with homeless encampments. Amarjeet Sohi says it's not possible to solve problems unless the Alberta government steps in. Sarah Komadina has more – Apr 12, 2023

A day after the City of Edmonton’s community and public services committee met to discuss a report looking at the city’s approach when it comes to homeless encampments, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi spoke about the need for more provincial support as city council looks to break from the status quo.

“(We want to put more homeless people) into permanent supportive housing, but when we talk to service providers, we don’t have enough supportive housing,” he told Global News on Wednesday.

The city’s homeless population doubled over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t have enough shelters for people to go to. We don’t have enough day drop-in spaces for people … We don’t have enough detox facilities in the city, we don’t have enough treatment facilities in this city.”

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The Alberta government is responsible for funding shelter spaces in the province.

Sohi has spoken out many times about the need for more help from the province and said the current system is dealing with symptoms — not the root causes of homelessness.

“We are stepping up and stepping in as much as we can, but we will not be able to find permanent sustainable solutions to this crisis until the province recognizes that it’s their lack of investment in these areas that is causing disorder in Edmonton.

“That is causing a lot of concern for businesses who have been vandalized — or people who do not feel safe in the downtown or on the LRT system.”

Click to play video: '‘We’ve lost the plot’: Edmonton city councillor weighs in on transit safety issues'
‘We’ve lost the plot’: Edmonton city councillor weighs in on transit safety issues

Data from the city reveals a sharp rise in complaints from Edmontonians about encampments.

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A recent report found the city’s approach to homelessness has been underfunded and understaffed with a lack of accountability and co-ordination between agencies.”

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Some city councillors say they believe having city workers break up encampments creates more problems than it solves.

The city is now looking at trying to get more people who need it into supportive housing while also trying to make encampments safer.

“It is very important to be clear that we have encampments in our city because we don’t have proper permanent supportive housing available for people to go to and spend a day and evening and be in that place,” Sohi said.

Sohi said the city is doing what it can to manage the encampments because it recognizes the social disorder and safety concerns not just for those living in them, but also for the surrounding communities.

“What we need is a comprehensive plan and we’ve been working on that plan, you know, stressing to the province that they don’t recognize and really understand the severity of the problems that we have — caused by their lack of investment in mental health, in addictions recovery in not having proper housing available or not having proper dignified shelter capacity in the city.”

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The mayor noted the city did learn it would receive some funding for certain projects in the latest provincial budget but said it is still “not enough to be meeting the need that we have out there.”

Click to play video: 'Community advocates question if more police in downtown Edmonton will solve social disorder'
Community advocates question if more police in downtown Edmonton will solve social disorder

Hunter Baril, a press secretary for the Ministry of Seniors, Community and Social Services, issued a statement to Global News that noted the provincial government is “focused on housing as a critical support.”

“(That is) why we are providing over $1 billion over three years to invest in affordable housing,” the statement reads. “Last month, we were proud to announce $120 million in shovel-ready projects, adding nearly 1,100 new affordable housing units into the province. These investments are putting Alberta on a path towards a better future, ensuring safer communities and more supports for those in need.”

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Baril noted the province is committed to helping homeless people find housing and receive more supports and said the government made announcements last year worth $187 million meant to address the issues.

“These investments are ensuring that emergency shelter space is available for those who need it. Over the past week in Edmonton, we have averaged 78 per cent occupancy in homeless shelters throughout the city.”

Click to play video: 'Enhanced encampment response plan presented to City of Edmonton committee'
Enhanced encampment response plan presented to City of Edmonton committee

Organizations that track the homeless population in Edmonton say the most recent count is almost 3,000 people living rough.

Following Tuesday’s committee meeting, city council will now be tasked with discussing a proposal to fund an initiative to move 100 people homeless people out of encampments and into permanent housing.

The Alberta NDP has outlined a plan for how it would address the affordable housing crisis if elected.

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Its strategy would invest $1.6 billion with a goal to build 8,500 more affordable housing units within five years. NDP seniors and housing critic Lori Sigurdson said the party hopes to help 40,000 Albertans find a safe and affordable place to live.

“Alberta needs more social housing — whether that’s for seniors, persons with disabilities, newcomers, families experiencing poverty or anyone who needs wraparound supports,” Sigurdson said.

The NDP also included rental assistance in its plan to support 11,000 new homes. The NDP said it would use a rent bank to protect people from sudden evictions and have income support.

Click to play video: 'People experiencing homelessness at higher risk of health issues'
People experiencing homelessness at higher risk of health issues

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