Emotions were running high Tuesday at a forum on homelessness as two of the mayoral candidates faced questions from people affected by cuts to social services.
Karen Leibovici and Don Iveson heard from people who live in homeless shelters, as well as people with the agencies that help them, at the forum sponsored by the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness
Nadine Chalifoux has been living in a shelter since becoming homeless eight weeks ago.
She became overwhelmed and started weeping as she stood at the microphone to ask her question about what the candidates would do for the working poor.
“I’m trying to find a home, but I can’t because low income doesn’t give me enough to live off of,” she said. “I use my entire paycheque just to find rent.”
She also took Iveson to task for the figures he gave about the city’s homeless, which she says doesn’t take the working poor into account.
“You’re not including the low income people that are merely skating by – and those people are slowly slipping into homelessness.”
Chalifoux – who later said that she was speaking out for everyone in her situation, not just herself – told Leibovici and Iveson the system needs to help low income people get back on their feet.
Province responsible for funding
Both candidates expressed sympathy for her plight.
“It’s stories like yours that decision-makers need to hear to understand, to put a face, on what we’re really talking about here,” Iveson said.
“Because the statistics don’t really tell us the whole picture.”
Iveson said he would help however he could, but he told Chalifoux the province is ultimately responsible for funding programs to help people in her situation.
Leibovici called Chalifoux brave for speaking out at the forum. She said the problem is caused by systems not working together, which allows people to fall through the cracks.
“What we need to do is to sit down with the provincial government – because this is mostly provincial – and take yourself as an instance and say ‘What do we need to do to fix this?’” Leibovici said.
After the forum, Iveson stayed to speak to Chalifoux about her situation. She said it helped that he listened, but said the answers both Iveson and Leibovici gave her seemed political.
“But I heard some answers that maybe a little bit more – promises that I’d like to see happen in the future,” she added.
Poor communication on Terwillegar project
Leibovici and Iveson were also asked about the proposed apartment complex in Terwillegar Towne that would offer supportive housing to formerly homeless people.
The project has angered some residents so much that their homeowners association is preparing to take legal action if necessary. Both Iveson and Leibovici told the forum communication with the community was poor.
Iveson said that it may be better to put a "mixed market" project in Terwillegar instead.
"There are some fair concerns about whether that site is going to be really successful for the clients because of its distance from groceries, its distance from employment, the transit which is bit hit and miss there," Iveson said.
Kerry Diotte was invited to the forum, but said on Twitter he didn’t show up due to a scheduling mix-up.
The other three declared candidates were not asked to take part.