$969M, strategy shift needed to stop homelessness: report

Nearly $1 billion and a shift in thinking is needed to tackle homelessness in Edmonton, according to the authors of a report released on Thursday.

Nearly $1 billion and a shift in thinking is needed to tackle homelessness in Edmonton, according to the authors of a report released on Thursday.

A Place to Call Home, a 10-year plan to end homelessness in the city, is the result of a task force appointed by Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel.

The plan recommends a shift from managing the problem through shelters and other short-term emergency services to using focused intervention, supportive housing and prevention programs to get homeless people into permanent homes.

Over 10 years, the plan will require an upfront investment of $401.6 million in capital costs and $567.5 million in operating costs, for a total of $969 million.

Nearly $1 billion sounds like a lot of money, but housing the chronically homeless is cost-effective in the long term, said Linda Hughes, chairperson of the Edmonton Committee to End Homelessness.

"Shelters, social services, health care, policing, ambulance, court costs range as high as $100,000 a year for every chronically homeless person, and all that spending does nothing to solve the problem," she said at the official launch of the report at city hall Thursday.

"It costs a lot less and it makes a lot more sense to find someone a home now and start helping them with their problems."

Some of the goals in the report include:

  • Ensuring people now living on the street and in public places have the options of permanent, supported housing by 2011.
  • Decreasing by 2012 the level of homeless people living in shelters to what it was in 2006.
  • Reducing the average length of stay at a homeless shelter to less than seven days by 2014.
  • Creating or securing 3,700 permanent, affordable housing units with supports for homeless people. This includes securing 800 supported units with private landlords by 2012, with an additional 300 coming in subsequent years, developing 1,000 units of permanent supportive housing by 2014 and securing 1,650 "modestly sized units" by 2019.
  • Reducing the need for emergency shelter spaces by 50 per cent by 2014.

Money for the plan will need to come from all levels of government and the support of all social service agencies and services, the report said.

A one-day survey last year counted 3,079 homeless people. At the current growth rate, that number will hit 6,500 in 2018 if nothing is done, the report said.