Bridge housing at Coliseum Inn leads to permanent housing for homeless Edmontonians
'I'm eternally grateful every day. I'm grateful that I'm here and not out there'
A temporary residence at the Coliseum Inn is keeping dozens of people off the streets and has helped 107 Edmontonians find housing after they were previously homeless.
Three weeks ago, Lori Cardinal and her husband were living in a tent at Camp Pekiwewin in the Rossdale neighbourhood.
Cardinal has been in and out of housing over the past six years, but currently the couple is staying in a private hotel room in the Coliseum Inn on Wayne Gretzky Drive.
"I don't think we'd be able to make another winter. My husband got hypothermia three times last year," Cardinal said. "It [the temporary residence] helped us tremendously to where we don't have to worry about getting kicked out in the middle of the night."
Since late April, the Coliseum Inn's 98 rooms have been rented through federal funding to operate as a temporary residence for Edmontonians experiencing homelessness as they await permanent housing. It's referred to as bridge housing.
Boyle Street Community Services handles the day-to-day operations at the hotel, offers around the clock support, and selects clients who are ready to move into the inn.
The hotel has 24/7 security and guests need to be approved to be let in the building, which Cardinal said she appreciates.
"One of the most positive things is security. I feel really safe here," she said.
There's a room to host Indigenous ceremonies and traditional healing. The hotel also features a cafeteria type of hall that allows for meetings between tenants and support staff. There's also a pharmacy in the building to handle prescriptions, which means guests don't need to leave the building to get that service.
Homeward Trust looks after the next step for tenants, which is getting them set up with permanent housing to fit their specific needs.
Since the program started in late April, 107 tenants have found permanent housing.
"That's the really important part of this, is that we've got among the dozen or so organizations that work in Housing First programs, their housing staff is working with individuals while they're staying there, having them look at sites, having them work on what their barriers to accessing housing are," said Susan McGee, CEO of Homeward Trust.
"So having an environment where that interaction is embedded in the model has been very important."
'The stress is gone'
For Cardinal, she's been hopeful as staff have helped her to get ID, and income support through Alberta Works, along with any other necessary steps to find permanent housing.
"We're actually able to try and save money to get a place. The stress is gone," she said.
The temporary residence has been in high demand, as there's a waiting list for people who want to move into the Coliseum Inn.
"As soon as rooms become available, intake is scheduled and they're filled the next day," said Ashley Lazowski, director of programs at Boyle Street Community Services.
Having the basic necessities of private hotel rooms offers dignity and a boost of confidence for tenants as they search for housing, she said.
"It's been kind of a game changer just because you're taking people to viewings when they've had some time to prepare, they've had a good night's sleep, they've had a shower, they have a chance to change their clothes," Lazowski said. "They have a better chance of making a good first impression with the landlord."
Second bridge housing residence to come
On Monday, Edmonton city council announced details of its plan to end homelessness before the end of October, which includes tapping into $8 million in federal and provincial funds to get nearly 600 Edmontonians out of tents and into temporary shelter.
A city-owned facility will offer 24/7 access, day programs and meal service, as well as embedded supports for addictions and mental health challenges.
The city will also open another residence similar to the Coliseum Inn, which the mayor has touted as a success.
"That's a really good program. We still need permanent units to bridge people into, but we want to get a second one of those running at a location that is still being finalized as well. But this month, we want to have a second hotel leased in an operation operating as bridge housing," said Mayor Don Iveson at a news conference on Monday.
Hearing that made Cardinal smile as she wants other people she's met on the streets and in camps to have the same opportunity at housing she's experiencing at the moment.
"I think that's awesome to get those people off the street, put them in places like this," she said.
"I'm eternally grateful every day. I'm grateful that I'm here and not out there. We don't have to be harassed by anybody. We have a place to go at night instead of roaming around to find someplace warm."