For the last year, we’ve been told to stay home, stay distanced, stay put. But what if you don’t have a home to go to? For those experiencing homelessness, or at risk of being put out on the street, this challenge can seem impossible.
Edmonton has seen multiple encampments and many shelters pop up since March of last year, but there’s a serious need for better options, and this need has never been more clear.
Edmonton City Council has been very clear about our need for partnership and support from the provincial government. Housing and homelessness is their jurisdiction. Our ask now is modest and reasonable and really the least they can do.
It is unclear whether our lone government MLA, Kacey Madu, is fighting for Edmonton in this regard at the Cabinet table.
Provincial budget deliberations are finalizing. I wanted to take a moment to talk about our situation and how we can work towards providing better housing in Edmonton for those who need it most.
The pandemic pulled attention to housing and homelessness in Edmonton, with shelters being a main concern at Council and for everyone in our city. Edmonton entered the pandemic with about 1,700 people sleeping on a friend’s couch, in shelters or outside.
In 2020 there was an average monthly increase of 10% in the number of people added to the By Name List (a formal registered list of people who have sought out housing supports and are looking to get on the path to permanent housing) as compared to 2019 – that’s an increase of around 170 people per month since March.
Last month, Homeward Trust organized another hotel style shelter off Whyte Ave, increasing an already growing number of mostly temporary drop-in shelters added to the city during this crisis. Since March, the City of Edmonton set up the Convention centre as a shelter, multiple hotels like the Coliseum Inn and Econolodge have been utilized, and Homeward Trust has opened multiple temporary sites.
This graphic from the Edmonton Journal shows just how many shelters were added in Edmonton over the course of the pandemic.
And while I’m incredibly proud to see organizations and people in our city taking such tremendous leadership to help our homeless population, it’s more clear than ever that we need proper housing in Edmonton. Our current system is creating band-aids and will only lead people back to the streets and the river valley. We need to do better.
The UCP has only supported shelters. The Province provided funding to Hope Mission which allowed them to expand to three facilities. This all comes after the UCP cut rent supplement funding by 24% in the 2019 budget. With more budget talks coming up, the City of Edmonton is asking the Province for crucial funding for more supportive housing to try and ease this issue.
Our government shouldn’t be in the business of temporary solutions – we need proper housing built and necessary operating dollars provided.
Investing in housing
Through targeted investment, Alberta could create real solutions for people who need housing and recovery supports – all the while boosting job creation, private sector investment, and cost-saving benefits for our other expensive social service and health systems.
The City of Edmonton is asking the Government of Alberta to support our ongoing housing efforts to build more supportive housing in Edmonton. Recognizing the fiscal challenges they face we’ve been mindful and year over year asked for less.
The City of Edmonton is requesting operational dollars for 5 new sites, which would be $5.86 million a year for 210 units of recovery-oriented supportive housing, starting in the 2022 budget. The total cost of construction for these is estimated to be $58 million, but these capital costs are borne entirely by the City of Edmonton and the Government of Canada.
And this isn’t only good for those individuals who need the housing – it’s the right step for our economy and the health of our downtown as a vibrant centre of commerce.
If approved for operational funding, these projects would not only drastically improve the lives of individuals served by these new units but also offer a chance for partnership with the Provincial government toward economic recovery. Supportive Housing is good for the economy and job creation – based on construction values, these PSH projects will create 172 jobs per 100 units built.
In October, the Chamber of Commerce released a report called Forging our Future that details the benefits of supportive housing for businesses and the economy, especially as it relates to current times with the COVID-19 pandemic. The report states:
“These projects will create engineering, design, and construction jobs while providing communities with the infrastructure they need to fully recover and be set up for long-term success. Developing non-market housing options also helps to reduce government spending on the impacts of social disorder. The City of Edmonton estimates an operational cost savings of over $10,000 for each of the 46 residents of Edmonton’s Ambrose Place housing project, as the frequency of interactions with emergency services have been drastically reduced for residents since moving in. Addressing the impacts of homelessness is viewed as crucial to our economic recovery.“
For too long we’ve opened shelters when people need housing. When something is not working, we must change directions – we must provide housing and do it as quickly as possible. This is good for people, good for businesses, good for our economy, and good for Edmonton.