2 Edmonton city councillors say pilot homeless encampment too expensive

An Edmonton council committee will review a report Monday outlining the $2.1M cost and details of a three-month pilot project to create three sanctioned homeless camps.

Administration report indicates $2.1M cost for three months

Camp Pekiwewin started in the summer of 2020, before the city shut it down in the fall, and moved people to the Edmonton Convention Centre. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

On Monday, Edmonton city council's community services committee will receive an administration report about setting up small-scale sanctioned encampments to serve 60 homeless people. 

Two weeks ago in an 11-2 vote, council directed the administration to study the idea, then report back on costs and provide recommendations. 

The administration said in a written report that it would cost $2.1 million to run three small-scale encampment sites from the beginning of August through to the end of October. 

City staff does not recommend implementation of the pilot program, "due to time constraints to operationalize and deactivate before winter, significant operational costs, lack of opportunity to do this work in partnership with neighbourhoods and potential regulatory approvals," according to the report. 

The administration asked Boyle Street community services to submit a cost estimate. The non-profit agency is interested in running the sanctioned encampment and then transitioning to tiny homes for a year-round solution. 

Boyle Street envisioned placement for 20 people at each of the three sites using tents and cots. 

Each encampment would be surrounded by a fence. Two meals a day would be provided along with a washroom trailer, potable water, picnic tables, a fire pit and onsite storage for belongings.

Private security would be hired to provide around-the-clock service. Other staff would include a program manager, support workers, an overdose response team and on-site cleaning staff. 

The administration said the advantages include privacy and safety for clients along with the chance for them to reduce moving around as they access on-site housing workers to transition to permanent housing. 

Under the list of challenges, the administration cites concerns with the short timeline, possible negative impacts for the neighbourhoods where the encampments would be located and the likelihood of drug use and the need to involve peace officers or police officers if there's trouble.

The administration is also concerned that additional encampments could be set up outside the sanctioned sites. 

"If this is allowed to occur, each pilot site risks becoming larger and unmanageable," the report states. "This would create a risk of treating those on one side of the fence very differently than those on the other sanctioned side."

'That seems like a lot of money' 

Coun. Anne Stevenson put forward the original motion directing administration to provide a report. She told CBC News she was surprised by the $2.1 million price tag.

"That's not a wise investment of our funds," Stevenson said. "That level of investment for three months for what is in any measure not a preferred solution or outcome, doesn't seem to make a lot of sense."

Coun. Tim Cartmell said he feels the same way. 

Coun. Tim Cartmell called the sanctioned encampment proposal a band-aid solution. (CBC)

"That seems like a lot of money," Cartmell said. "It's a band-aid approach. It's not a permanent approach. I don't know that over time, it's worthy of the investment."

As part of its report, the administration provided information and costs for more permanent additions in the fight against homelessness.

Three non-profit organizations have proposed a plan that would use workforce trailers to house 140 people. The annual cost would be $10.6 million, but that would not include the cost of renting the trailers or utilities. 

Prefabricated tiny homes would cost between $30,000 and $100,000 per unit, but that doesn't include the cost of preparing individual sites or operational costs. To purchase 60 would cost as much as $6 million.

The report indicated that with the removal of COVID-19 restrictions and an increase in travel, most Edmonton hoteliers are no longer willing to consider short-term leases to provide bridge housing. Leasing costs for 200 units would cost $5.4 million annually. 

The administration suggested that instead of the pilot program, they could take more time to analyze and plan for a year-round solution to take effect next spring.

"If we can start now to get some different approaches in place for next spring, I think that goes a long way," Stevenson said, although she's still worried about finding an immediate solution for this summer.

"This is a crisis that we're facing right now and I hope we can find some other creative solutions for this season."


Janice Johnston

Court and crime reporter

Janice Johnston is an investigative journalist with CBC Edmonton who has covered Alberta courts and crime for more than three decades. She won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award in 2016 for her coverage of the trial of a 13-year-old Alberta boy who was acquitted of killing his abusive father. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca.