Despite warm winter, Edmonton's inner city shelters busier than ever

Organizations dealing with homelessness and poverty in Edmonton have seen a spike in usage but a decrease in donations.

Organizations dealing with poverty are seeing an increase in usage but a decrease in donations

Hundreds line up for a free roast beef dinner offered by the Inner City Agencies Foundation at the Boyle Street Plaza. (CBC)

On Sunday, for the sixteenth time, the Inner City Agencies Foundation (ICAF) served food to around 800 of Edmonton's homeless and most needy to kick off Inner City Awareness Week.

The lineup outside the Boyle Street Plaza was long and winding, but for those waiting it was worth it.

At the end of that line - a piping hot roast beef dinner with all the fixings. For those waiting it symbolized a break from hardship.

James House was homeless a year ago.

In the interim, the 31-year-old has worked with the city's social services and has managed to get off the streets.

For those like him, this type of event means much more than just a hot meal.

"If you're homeless, and some kind of event comes up like this it feels like a break, you get to relax and eat," he said

"It's more than just a meal. Everyone is here together. A place like this with all the music and food. It makes you feel like you're not alone."

James House says that dinners like the one offered at the Boyle Street Plaza can mean more to those who receive it than sustenance. (CBC)

Usage up but donations down

House isn't alone with needing help from organizations like the ICAF.

Julian Daly, the Executive Director of Boyle Street Community Services, says there is almost always a direct correlation between occupancy at city shelters and the temperature outside.

However, that wasn't the case this year. Despite the warm winter, the Boyle Street Community Services has been busier than ever.

"When it's really cold obviously people want to be inside. But (this year) our buildings been packed and it's plus three, plus four, plus five," said Daly.

Julian Daly says that it's cheaper for the province to house someone than to have them out on the street. (CBC)

Daly said the services Boyle Street offers to homeless people have increased dramatically. In the last nine months, they have gone from managing mail for 1,300 to about 2,100 people. They've also seen a similar increase in their important document managing services.

Shelter staff has also seen a 42 per cent increase in the number of people sleeping outdoors.

"We've seen a significant increase in the number of people using our services in the last nine months," said Daly. "I think the economic downturn is really biting us."

"The fact that we often see the first affected, as well as the people that do lose their jobs and have no savings, nothing, they can become homeless really quickly."

We've seen a significant increase in the number of people using our services in the last nine months.- Julian Daly

David Nedohin, the chair of the Inner City Agency Foundation, said that even though the seven agencies the foundation supports are busier than ever their funding is lacking too.

In particular he said, corporate funding is down. He tied both the increase in usage and the decrease in funding to Alberta's current economic woes.  

"I think that is compacted by the fact that the agencies run a lot by donations and revenue that can generate from events that are supported by those who have the whereabouts to do that," Nedohin said.  

"Obviously, when there is not as much money in those organizations the funding tends to disappear. So when it's most in need, it's often not there."

David Nedohin, the chair of the ICAF, said that, because of the economy, donations are down. (CBC)

Edmonton is attempting to end homelessness in Edmonton by 2019.

Daly said that it makes economic sense to end poverty as it is cheaper to house someone than have them out on the street. But he adds, without significant changes in how the city handles poverty and homelessness he can't see the goal being reached. 

"Eradicating poverty and homelessness is ambitious but it is absolutely possible, as our mayor has said," said Daly. 

"But it requires a level of investment and political commitment that we have yet to see."  


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