Edmonton city council approves additional winter house space at emotional committee meeting – Edmonton

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In an emotional executive committee meeting on Wednesday, Edmonton City Council adopted an increase in the grant for another winter shelter spacebut not before voicing frustrations over the lack of planning and delayed timetables for solutions to help the city’s most vulnerable population.

City officials proposed a solution to the winter shelter crisis: a small hotel, operated by the Jasper Place Wellness Center, that would include a total of 209 beds. A local health center would also work in partnership with the hotel to provide additional support. Operating costs for the 150 assemblies and 59 private rooms would be $7.5 million over six months.

According to data collected by the Homeward Trust, this month there are 2,706 people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton – only 16 per cent of them using shelters. Thirty percent are outdoors, 51 percent are provisionally accommodated, and the last three percent are unaccounted for.

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The additional space proposed Wednesday would allow anyone experiencing homelessness to have a place to live if they choose. It will also provide shelter to Western homeless populations who do not want to leave their communities to find shelter space downtown.

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Edmonton’s homeless count is set for Wednesday, and history shows that winter housing spaces are needed

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said the city hoped the shelters promised by the province in the fall would be full now that temperatures have already dropped and winter is creeping in. The delays are partly caused by a lack of staff. for the shelters, and is awaiting the completion of renovations to the shelters.

“Does the province understand … this constant piecemeal approach that they seem to take every single year – and in some cases no year at all – is causing any of this challenge? That we can’t staff these places is no wonder , because, you know, if you’re guaranteed a job for three or four or five months, versus someone who can get a permanent job … this is part of the ongoing battle that we’re dealing with every year,” said the congregation’s Nakota Isga Councilor Andrew Knack.

“We’re hearing about people dying on our streets right now … and it’s going to be frustrating to see this year after year,” Knack said.

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Click to play video: 'Edmonton councilors look to improve shelters, increase affordable housing'

Edmonton councilors look to improve shelters, increase affordable housing

During the November 9-10 cold, shelters were 98 percent full – 812 out of 827 beds filled. Another 408 people used transit stations and were subsequently removed as part of the city’s security strategy.

Data from last winter shows that the highest occupancy rates were on some of the coldest nights of the winter.

Depending on the night, city officials have seen anywhere from 150-400 people in transit rooms seeking shelter and warmth already this season.

“This was not unpredictable to me,” said Anirniq ward councilor Erin Rutherford. She said that these concerns were something she expressed back in September and that if the problem was not addressed properly and immediately, we would be in the situation we are in now.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton looks at new ways to deal with homeless encampments'

Edmonton is looking at new ways to deal with homeless encampments

And now, due to pushback from the provincial government — which is responsible for funding shelters — the city is shifting its budget to accommodate what the province wouldn’t provide.

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“What is the price tag for dignity?” Rutherford asked the province.

“We cannot continually bankroll a systemic problem that is outside of our jurisdiction,” she said. “We need to look at how we can help reduce homelessness and start to really address the problem long-term.”

Knack shouted the premier, who on Tuesday announced billions of dollars to help families struggling with inflationary costs, all while the city gets more than $7.5 million in kickbacks to help people who have no homes at all.

“If they used a fraction of their $13 billion surplus, every person in this province could have a home within a year.”

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Edmonton shelters save the vulnerable from frostbite, extreme cold

Frustrations were echoed by community services who feel the pressure of not having a plan in place until now.

“It’s frustrating every winter (that) we have to wait to this point,” said Elliott Tanti, senior manager of communications and engagement at Boyle Street Community Services.

“We’re a winter town and we have almost 3,000 people experiencing homelessness in our town – we need to plan for this year round and all stakeholders need to be involved in these conversations so it’s not a last minute thing.”

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Tanti said he’s glad to hear there’s now a plan in place going into the winter, but “it’s always a concern when camps are taken down because the real issues here are where people are going to next time?

“Until we look at meaningful solutions for people, we will continue to see encampments all over Edmonton.”

Shelters are only one piece of the housing puzzle, Tanti said.

“I think we need to look at this challenge more holistically and think about other things we could do.”

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The Shigella outbreak in Edmonton’s inner city put 115 people in hospital

The recent shigella outbreak in Edmonton’s camps also heightened the need to find a solution to the lack of winter shelter.

Alberta Health Services has detected over 170 cases of the virus in Edmonton, with close to 70 percent requiring hospitalization.

“We need to control the spread of this virus (so that) more homeless people are not affected. And to do that, we need to find suitable places for people to go instead of living in the camp … it is very uncongregated, there’s no access to toilets, access to sanitation. So we have to find places where people can go and have that support available to them,” Sohi told Global News.

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The city also began dismantling encampments — which have taken a lot of heat from Edmontonians over the past few years — on Wednesday to try to stop the virus from spreading.

The city has received at least 8,000 complaints about encampments across the city — a 34 percent increase over last year.

In the presentation to city council members, city officials said there will be additional funding to help reduce the spread of shigella.

“In coordination with AHS, the City of Edmonton has provided additional funding to expand the operation of the temporary restrooms, a shower, washing facilities in response to the Shigella outbreak,” city officials said.

Boyle Street has also distributed sanitation kits to people, providing them with what is needed to stop the spread of shigella – a temporary solution until shelters and additional support are available.

While all councilors who spoke at the meeting expressed their support for the shelter proposal, they also asked for the province to step up and support Albertans who need help.

“I don’t want to be here again next year,” Sohi said, adding that more transitional and permanent housing solutions must be presented.

— with files from Sarah Komadina, Global News

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