The City of Edmonton is investing additional resources to help with the anticipated growth of unsheltered homeless people in the summer.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the number of Edmontonians experiencing homelessness in our city has increased significantly, it’s more than doubled,” said Christel Kjenner, director of affordable housing and homelessness for the City of Edmonton.
“It’s sitting at just approximately 2,800 people and on any given night we expect approximately 700 to 800 of those folks are sleeping unsheltered or sleeping outside.”
Part of the city’s strategy is increasing the number of staff who will work to address homeless encampments. Currently, there are nearly 60 full-time employees with the city working in that capacity, according to Kjenner.
“It’s fair to say the City of Edmonton has one of the most comprehensive responses to engagement relative to other cities in Canada, no question,” she added. “It would be a superficial understanding of the problem just to think we can use enforcement to remove encampments and that will solve the problem.”
Some Edmontonians who live near the river valley said they have seen encampments in the area year after year.
“I have empathy for those who are living in this situation, this is not a way for a human being to live,” said Jennifer Pede, who lives in Riverdale. “The problem is that this isn’t a healthy situation for our community, it’s not a healthy situation for them.”
Area residents said they have to deal with theft, litter and vandalism on a daily basis.
When encampments are reported to the city, a response team is dispatched to assess the health and safety risk to the occupant and surrounding community.
“For encampments that are determined to be a lower risk, then we really prioritize ensuring those folks are able to connect to housing, which can take a little bit longer,” said Kjenner. “We know that on average it takes 59 days to house somebody who’s sleeping outside and that’s because they often need to get identification, we need to connect them to social assistance or income support to be able to afford rent.”
Edmonton will spend around $2.7 million this year to respond to and clean up homeless encampments, added Kjenner. The city is also spending an additional $1.8 million to mitigate the reduction to the Bissell Center’s drop in hours of operation and $4.8 million to expand access to bridge housing.
According to a report presented to city council Monday, it is expected there will be 634 shelter beds available by June, a decrease of 44 per cent since earlier in 2022. At the beginning of the year, more beds were available due to pandemic-related temporary shelter space funded by the Alberta government.
“We really need to work with individuals to sustainably resolve the encampment by sustainably resolving their homelessness,” said Kjenner.
“There’s a lot of research nationally… which looked at the costs of managing homelessness and found that for every dollar that we invest in the solutions to homelessness, which is affordable housing, we save systems and all other levels of government four dollars in terms of costs.”
The City of Edmonton announced several affordable housing projects recently, including a low-rise apartment complex in Heritage Valley.
“All of these investments and all of the work of the existing sector and the investments of the government of Alberta and the government of Canada will make an impact,” said Kjenner.
“Homelessness is solvable and there are tried and true interventions and solutions. We have achieved progress in the past and we will achieve progress in the future. What we need it for all the parties to come together and work together.”
the report also recommended against managed encampments as a solution to bring resources to the homeless population. A review found they didn’t deter people from camping in other areas of the city and larger camps become hard to manage and can pose safety risks to occupants and surrounding communities.
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Jeremy Thompson