The number of people struggling with homelessness in Edmonton has doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data from the Homeward Trust.
There are now some 2,800 people without permanent home, a number that has doubled since the end of 2019.
Before the pandemic, the city had made progress in assisting the homeless, hosting more than 13,000 people since 2009, and the number of homeless Edmontons dropped to 1,300.
But over the past 20 months, the pandemic has seen those numbers skyrocket. It has widened gaps in support and public health restrictions have also challenged the capacity of shelters. There have been fewer shelters for the night, less access to public spaces, and more campsites.
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In a report Tuesday, Edmonton councilors were told that the administration projects there will be fewer emergency shelter beds available this winter than last winter.
In fact, projections show a gap of around 350 shelter beds.
“If that need is not met, we will have Edmontons sleeping outside in the winter … and that is unacceptable,” said Mayor Amarjeet Sohi.
“I understand that we lack 350 refuge spaces in the city … that is something that we have emphasized to the prime minister and the minister.”
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Currently, there are 720 emergency shelter beds funded by the province. But that funding will expire at the end of November.
The Alberta government funds overnight lodging services. Provincial funds go to agencies such as Hope Mission, Herb Jamieson, Mustard Seed, the Women’s Emergency Shelter, and the Spectrum Shelter, which then manage the sites and operations.
Four agencies have funding requests for the Alberta government.
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Councilors Andrew Knack and Aaron Paquette expressed frustration that the city was taking steps to address an issue that is the responsibility of the provincial government.
“We are trying to solve a problem that we cannot solve ourselves,” Knack said.
Paquette said that this is a clear health and mental health crisis and that there are jurisdictional problems.
“This is a priority issue for Edmontons and they generally don’t understand … jurisdictional powers,” he said.
“We don’t have the powers, by law, and we certainly don’t have the money.”
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A press conference is scheduled for noon on Wednesday that will include Prime Minister Jason Kenney and Minister of Social and Community Services Jason Luan. A press release says they will “announce funding and new steps being taken to help support Albertans who are homeless and experiencing domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
A funding commitment from the province would help address the gap in emergency shelter beds.
“I am very optimistic that the conversation I had with the Prime Minister and Minister Luan will lead to some conclusions, and we look forward to good news,” Sohi said on Tuesday. “I am encouraged by the collaborative tone and look forward to tomorrow’s announcement.
“These are interim solutions,” he added. “We need long-term solutions.”
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The city has provided $ 1.6 million to Bissell Center, The Mustard Seed and Boyle Street Community Services to extend day shelter services through the end of 2021. The funds will extend day service contracts for shelters that were scheduled to expire at the end of 2021 November until the end of the year.
The money will allow people to access meals, showers, clothing, laundry, hygiene items and harm reduction supplies, as well as mental health, addiction, cultural and housing support services. The administration recommends that the council spend a total of $ 3.3 million to extend those day shelter services through the end of winter.
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“We are obviously concerned,” said Christel Kjenner, the city’s director of Affordable Housing and Homelessness. “The reason we are on the council today is that we identified this gap.”
Kjenner explained that the city expects the province to offer support in the form of additional shelter capacity for up to 350 people. Four operators have pending funding requests, such as the South Side church shelters operated by Mustard Seed, the Specter operated by Hope Mission.
He also hopes the province will suggest additional ways to close the gap. The city has offered temporary emergency shelter space at Commonwealth Stadium, which could accommodate 150 beds, and at the Spectrum shelter, which is operated by Hope Mission and is currently scheduled to close in late November.
“This crisis is becoming more pressing as temperatures continue to drop,” Sohi said.
“The city is trying to do its part, but we cannot do it alone.”
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During extreme weather events, city resources will be used to open a temporary space for emergency shelters 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and expand overnight transportation when thresholds for the capacity of the system are reached. shelters and severe weather.
So if there is an extreme cold warning, the city steps in, expanding the capacity of the shelters and operating free buses from transit stations to shelters to keep Edmonton’s vulnerable residents out of the cold.
“It’s scary that people could be sleeping on the street,” Sohi said.
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