City approves 4-agency team to run homeless shelter in Edmonton Convention Centre

Four social agencies are teaming up to operate the Edmonton Convention Centre as a homeless shelter this winter.

Boyle Street, Bissell Centre, Mustard Seed and Bent Arrow to run 24/7 shelter

The temporary shelter at the Convention Centre will accommodate about 300 people starting next week. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

Four social agencies are teaming up to operate the Edmonton Convention Centre as a homeless shelter this winter.

The Boyle Street Service Society, the Bissell Centre and The Mustard Seed will operate the shelter starting Oct. 30 and ending Feb. 28.

City council's executive committee approved the contracts, totalling $8.5 million, at a meeting Monday.

The Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society is also listed as a provider but is not included in the city's fiduciary contract. 

The temporary 24/7 shelter, expected to open next week, will accommodate 300 people overnight and 400 people during the day who are considered homeless.

The agencies put out a collective statement Monday, saying an estimated 180 people are becoming homeless each month. 

Operations at the convention centre are in  response to the public health need created by the COVID-19 pandemic, they said.

"People who stay at the temporary pandemic accommodation will have a safe, warm place to sleep, receive three meals a day and have access to storage, and washrooms and shower facilities," the statement said. 

Coun. Scott McKeen has consistently pushed for more resources for the homeless population. 

"They deserve our support and our compassion," McKeen said Monday.

"Some of the folks that are out there in our community are really, really wounded and really ill, suffering from the illness of addiction as well as their underlying condition." 

The announcement comes after several weeks of growing makeshift encampments in Rossdale and Old Strathcona and reported social unrest and disorder.

The convention centre facility will replace services provided at the Expo Centre during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

McKeen noted that homelessness has unfortunate side effects, such as driving potential customers away from small businesses. 

"This is a worthy, worthy effort, and it will not be perfect," he said.

Each agency will play a distinct role in operating the 24/7 shelter, from providing essential services like food, to medical, mental health, addictions and cultural support.

The Mustard Seed Society will manage the overnight shelter services. Bissell Centre will be responsible for the day shelter and housing services. Boyle Street Service Society will oversee the intake, shuttle service, medical, mental health and addictions supports.

The Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society will help ensure the accommodations meet the needs of Indigenous people

The agencies stressed that temporary housing is not the solution to homelessness.

"The solution to homelessness is housing and support services," the agencies said in the statement. "This response is a stepping stone on the path to ending homelessness."

The Mustard Seed is also set to provide services for 150 people at a separate shelter on the south-side, starting at the end of the month.

Iveson said the city is also securing more spaces at a hotel to be announced next week.