City crews will clean up homeless camps in the river valley all winter. (Supplied/Travis Kennedy) The number of complaints about homeless people camping on parkland is on track to double from two years ago, even as Edmonton nears the end of its initial ten-year plan to end homelessness.
The city has received 1,400 complaints about camping on parkland this year, and if the numbers continue at the same pace, there will be roughly 1,800 by year’s end. There were 973 complaints in 2016.
"I’m aware of what’s showing up in neighbourhoods; we have more tents, just on sidewalks," said Susan McGee, CEO of Homeward Trust.
"It’s undeniable the number of calls and complaints the city is getting, in terms of those living rough in our parklands. That’s very real."
McGee’s comments came following an executive committee meeting at city hall on Monday, where councillors discussed efforts to tackle Edmonton’s homelessness problem.
McGee pointed out there have been successes since 2009 — such as housing more than 8,000 people through housing first programs run by various agencies.
But there’s still a lack of permanent supportive housing, which offers more intense, on-site support for tenants. City staff are now actively searching for several sites to develop permanent supportive housing.
The approach has been taken in other cities. Coun. Ben Henderson noted Vancouver has built 1,400 such units in a decade by offering 12 city-owned sites for such projects, starting in 2007. Edmonton city council wants to help create more affordable housing options for some of the city’s most vulnerable population. (CBC) "The city will be starting with a review of its existing inventory of land to see if we own any sites currently that would appropriate," said Christel Kjenner, the city’s director for housing and homelessness.
"Barring that, we would be looking at acquiring potential sites for redevelopment and retrofit of existing buildings."
City staff are expected to come back with four recommended sites early next year. Ambitious 10-year plan
Edmonton was part of a wave of North American cities that developed 10-year plans to end homelessness, with a focus on housing first-strategies where the chronically homeless are housed in apartments or other lodgings, without conditions such as sobriety as a pre-requisite.
But two years ago, numbers showed the city was falling behind on a different part of the plan — to build 1,000 new permanent supportive housing units.
So far, only about 200 have been constructed.
McGee said part of the problem comes from a lack of funding commitments from higher orders of government. Without money in place, any work done to secure a potential building or site can be wasted if funding falls through.
"It’s very difficult to do this on a one-off basis, try to secure a site, secure the funding, then if you don’t get the funding, then you’ve lost the site and you’ve wasted a lot of money and time, and goodwill in the community," she said.
On the flip side, if funding becomes available but plans are not in place or shovel-ready, the money could be lost.The city is ideally looking for sites that could be developed into 30-unit buildings. It must also tackle issues such as zoning and possible community opposition as it tries to pin down the locations.Coun. Scott McKeen said facilities will not be tucked into residential neighbourhoods, but will more likely be located on arterial roads, and proximity to amenities and services will be important."We need everyone to buy in. We’ve thought for too long that people have ‘chosen’ this lifestyle…it’s time for the entire community to demand from MLAs, MPs, and city councillors and the mayor that we solve this."
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