Edmonton pilot project aiming to get homeless emergency patients into stable housing

A group of Edmontonians is requesting $290,000 from city council to operate a pilot project that would offer homeless patients in emergency rooms a chance to get into housing when they're released.

A group has asked council for $290,000 in funding to operate the pilot for a year

If the pilot is approved and funded by Edmonton city council, one of three newly built 12-suite buildings run by Jasper Place Wellness Centre would house clients in west Edmonton. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

For years, Dr. Louis Francescutti has been trying to solve a problem.

When Edmontonians who are homeless end up in the emergency room, they're released back into homelessness — and eventually end up in the ER again at some point.

"There's a lot of moral distress among healthcare providers having to discharge someone into homelessness," Francescutti said.

"It's the worst feeling for doctors and nurses and social workers to say to a person, 'That's all we can do. And you're basically on your own.'"

His goal is to release them back into a healthy living situation that would help them get off the street and find housing.

He's involved in a pilot project called Bridge Healing Asamina Kochi, which translates from Cree to "try again." It's organized by a group of social workers and emergency physicians, along with other community members.

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Francescutti presented to a Community and Public Services Committee meeting on Monday about the pilot. He and the group requested $290,000 to fund operational costs of the project for a year, which could potentially lead to it launching in July.

Edmonton city council is expected to discuss the request at a council meeting on May 24.

Under the pilot, patients at the Royal Alexandra Hospital who are homeless would be asked if they were ready to get out of homelessness. If they say yes, the healthcare provider would use an app to sign them up for an available space at a newly-built 12 suite building in west Edmonton. 

Healthcare and social support would be provided, along with short-term work opportunities, and involvement in growing fruits and vegetables as part of the Jasper Place Wellness Centre's operation of the building.

Clients would have 30 days to live in the building while they plan to find short-term or permanent housing. The ask comes as the number of people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton has doubled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and is expected to increase further, according to a recent city report.

Dr. Louis Francescutti, a professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta and an emergency physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, is involved in the Bridge Healing Asamina Kochi pilot proposal. (Submitted by Dr. Louis Franscescutti)

In an executive summary, Bridge Healing Asamina Kochi pointed to Alberta Health Services data for 2021 that estimates there were 4,297 homeless patients who visited emergency rooms in the Edmonton zone. One person experiencing chronic homelessness can cost up to $114,850 in direct and indirect costs per year in Alberta, according to that data.

But for Francescutti, the pilot is more about offering dignity and a second chance than saving hospital costs.

"The goal is no patient that ever comes to Alberta Health Services in the future should ever be discharged without a home to go to. And this is the model to show how it can be done," he said.

The group is also planning another similar pilot involving the University of Alberta Hospital, but it's still in need of funding and the building to house clients has not yet been built.

The group would use the currently proposed pilot to learn from successes and failures.


Travis McEwan

Video journalist

Travis McEwan is a video journalist who covers stories ranging from human interest and sports to municipal and provincial issues. Originally from Churchill, Man., Travis has spent the last decade working at CBC Edmonton reporting for web, radio and television. Email story ideas to travis.mcewan@cbc.ca.