Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the number of homeless people in Edmonton has skyrocketed.
“We were at about 1,900 homeless people, and now we’re at over 3,000,” said Scarlet Bjornson, communications specialist at the Bissell Center.
To help, the city council decided to give the Bissell Center $1.8 million to extend its hours of operation for six months.
“Due to the increased need, we are finding that some of the organizations that aim to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness are struggling to meet the increased demand,” said Christel Kjenner, director of the affordable housing and homelessness with the City of Edmonton.
Although this financial boost is only temporary, Coun. Anne Stevenson said more needed to be done.
“I’m really worried that this summer and this season will be the worst we’ve seen,” ward councilor O-day’min said.
Stevenson said more permanent housing is the solution, but it’s not coming immediately. For that reason, she said it’s time to think about homeless camps like the one that sprung up in Rossdale in 2020. Stevenson proposes that the city operate and run a camp.
READ MORE: Camp Pekiwewin in Rossdale closed, police and municipal teams on site
The municipal administration is now studying the idea.
“We know that managed or legal encampments have been used as a tool in other jurisdictions to help address the large number of people who are unsheltered, and so we are open to exploring this as a potential solution,” said Kjenner said.
Kjenner noted that while the idea of a legal camp is in its infancy, current regulations do not allow overnight camping in public places.
‘Beyond Excitement’: Nova Scotia Woman Wins on Jeopardy!
Ed Sheeran wins ‘Shape of You’ copyright lawsuit: ‘A coincidence is inevitable’
“But we see it as one of the tools in the overall toolbox,” Kjenner said.
The municipal administration will make a presentation to council in the coming weeks.
Stevenson said that, overall, a legal camp isn’t the ideal long-term solution — housing is. She asks the provincial government to help pay for these units.
READ MORE: ‘Peril or promise’: Long-term solution needed to help homeless in Alberta cities
In a statement, Community and Social Services Minister Jason Luan said the provincial government’s latest budget “maintains existing funding for homeless shelters at $49 million” and highlighted the measures his government takes to solve the problem.
“The Government of Alberta also provides $29 million annually to Homeward Trust Edmonton to deliver a variety of programs, including supportive housing and community services,” the statement said. “Homeward Trust works closely with local community organizations, including the Bissell Centre, to ensure that government funding is directed to priority projects.
“In 2021-22, Homeward Trust provided $1.86 million to Bissell to operate outreach services, supportive housing and intensive case management. We recently established a provincial task force on homelessness — Homeward Trust CEO Susan McGee and Edmonton City Manager Andre Corbould both sit on the task force. This working group brings together experts and community leaders from civil society, law enforcement, academia and the private sector to find innovative ways to work towards a common goal of reducing recurrent homelessness. We believe that the best solution lies within the group.
Seniors and Housing Minister Josephine Pon also released a statement on the matter.
“Our government released ‘Stronger Foundations: Alberta’s 10-year affordable Housing strategy’ last November. ‘Stronger Foundations’ outlines the bold and thoughtful changes needed to provide safe, stable and affordable housing for an additional 25,000 households over the next 10 years, an increase of more than 40%,” the statement read. “A key part of the strategy is how we will work with municipal governments.
“Throughout this spring and summer, we will be conducting a community needs assessment with municipalities to work together to build new community-based affordable housing projects focused on better community outcomes.
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.