Edmonton

Alberta to spend combined $187M for homelessness, addictions in Edmonton, Calgary

The Alberta government has committed to spend $63 million to reduce homelessness throughout the province, it announced Saturday. It will also spend more than $124 million on increasing access to addiction and mental health services in Edmonton and Calgary.

The government also committed to 5 actions to address homelessness

A man is shown speaking into a microphone that's set up on a podium. A mostly filled Styrofoam cup sits on the podium. There are several people standing in the background reading a report. Edmonton's chief of police is also standing in the background, holding his cap at his side with his left hand.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces millions in new spending and a flurry of actions the government plans to take to combat homelessness in the province, and improve addiction services in Edmonton and Calgary. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC)

The Alberta government has committed to five immediate actions and will spend an additional $63 million, over two years, to reduce homelessness throughout the province, it announced Saturday.

The province also announced that it will spend more than $124 million on increasing access to addiction and mental health services in Edmonton and Calgary.

"We know that this will take work for years to come. None of this is going to change overnight," said Premier Jason Kenney during a news conference Saturday morning. "But we are committed to that long-term work."

The money for addictions and mental health services will fund recovery communities, hybrid health and police hubs, therapeutic living units in provincial correctional facilities, medical detox and harm reduction and recovery outreach teams. Over two years, $54 million will go toward operations and $70 million will be for capital spending.

Meanwhile, the government plans to make provincially funded shelters accessible at all times, where needed; balance funding amounts between community-based organizations in Edmonton and Calgary; improve data collection and reporting; and pilot a service hub model, where select shelters in Edmonton and Calgary connect people directly with supports and services they need.

It also committed to expanding the number of shelter spaces during winter months in Edmonton, Wetaskiwin, and Lethbridge, and eight other rural communities in northern and central Alberta.

A man stands at a podium with "Alberta" labeled on the front. He is speaking into a microphone and holding sheets of paper with a speech written on them. Downtown towers can be seen in the background.
Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi thanked the premier Saturday for working with him on the city's homelessness issue. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC)

"These investments show that our collaborative approach is working and, together, we are making life better for struggling Edmontonians," Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said during Saturday's news conference.

Saturday marked the first time Edmonton's police Chief Dale McFee saw a systematic approach, with an end goal of attaining permanent housing, come together since he started in his role, he said during the news conference.

"It's exciting," McFee said. "It gives [the Edmonton Police Service] hope to work with our partners… to make [the community] safer, but also to make it so that people can do business and live their livelihoods here."

Changing approach to homelessness

The announcements stem from recommendations made in a report submitted last summer by the Coordinated Community Response to Homelessness Task Force — a team of bureaucrats, academics and community group members, among others, that the provincial government established in November 2021.

The group examined how homelessness is affecting communities throughout Alberta, reviewed the current accessibility to various services, such as shelters, and developed a model to deliver a more coordinated community response to homelessness.

The report made 14 recommendations that aim to create clear direction and accountability for tackling homelessness, establish expectations for shelters and better support their staff, and help prevent people from experiencing homelessness in the first place.

On Saturday, the provincial government released its Action Plan on Homelessness. The document explains the approach it will take toward the issue, and further details the five immediate actions it has committed to taking.

The government will help shelters shift to a housing-focused approach: instead of relying on shelters as a housing option, staff will help people return to or move into more stable accommodations.

It will also help shelters adopt a recovery-oriented approach. Many people experiencing homelessness use drugs, the plan says, so such an approach would link people to detox and treatment services, and other health facilities, if they want help.

The community and social services ministry has developed an outcome-focused approach, the plan says.

Steps to implement it include creating one homeless management information system, so stakeholders no longer have to use multiple systems; developing a "logic model" and specific outcomes for shelters; and working with stakeholders to test different approaches that could better help people experiencing homelessness.

Winter shelter spaces

The Alberta government will spend $9 million this fiscal year to expand shelter spaces during the wintertime, its action plan says.

Edmonton will receive $5 million to create an extra 450 spaces, bringing the available shelter spaces in the city up to about 1,050.

Wetaskiwin and Lethbridge will each get $1 million. Wetaskiwin's allotment will create 50 new spaces, in part to make up for the closure of a temporary overnight 20-bed shelter. Lethbridge's share will add 70 more spaces.

The remaining $2 million will be split among eight rural communities — Slave Lake, Cold Lake, Peace River, Lac La Biche, Edson, Drayton Valley, Grande Prairie and Leduc — to create up to 100 shelter spaces.

Expanding shelter services

Only four shelters — Hope Mission in Edmonton, Salvation Army-Wagner Centre in Calgary, the Lloydminster Men's Shelter and Mustard Seed Red Deer — that do not operate around the clock will receive operational funding from the provincial government, the plan says.

The government will spend $4.5 million this fiscal year so those facilities can provide 24/7 service, such as food and day sleeping arrangements.

"Our heart is recovery. We want to build up our numbers," Bruce Reith, executive director of Hope Mission, told reporters Saturday.

Meanwhile, $2.5 million will go to select shelters in Edmonton and Calgary this fiscal year to pilot a service hub model. These shelters will provide people with "more direct connections" to various social services, the plan says.

The selected shelters would also provide accommodation, on-site services and facilitate access to recovery services, such as harm reduction or detox, appropriate housing options, cultural supports and primary health-care.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the hub model "will make sure we're not warehousing people."

"We are allowing people to have a dignified approach to getting them out of the situations they find themselves in, by having all those supports co-located in-shelter," Gondek told reporters during a news conference in Calgary Saturday.

The six-month pilot projects will start this fall, the plan says.

The community and social services ministry will evaluate the outcomes. The results will be used to inform the service hub model in other communities, it adds.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicholas Frew is a CBC Saskatchewan reporter based in Regina, who specializes in producing data-driven stories. Hailing from Newfoundland and Labrador, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school. He has previously worked for CBC newsrooms in Manitoba and Alberta. Before joining CBC, he interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. You can reach him at nick.frew@cbc.ca.

With files from Emily Fitzpatrick and Marc-Antoine Leblanc

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