Edmonton can 'absolutely' end chronic homelessness, mayor says

The city of Edmonton can "absolutely" end chronic homelessness, Mayor Don Iveson said Tuesday.

Homeward Trust says $230 million in capital investment needed over six years

Edmonton city council wants to help create more affordable housing options for some of the city's most vulnerable populations. (CBC)

The City of Edmonton can "absolutely" end chronic homelessness, Mayor Don Iveson said Tuesday.

Homeward Trust, an organization that works to end homelessness, told city councillors a capital investment of $230 million over six years is needed to house 4,000 homeless people.

The updated plan to end homelessness, put together by Homeward Trust and the city, sets several targets.

By 2020, "no one staying in shelter or sleeping rough will experience chronic homelessness" and by 2022, everyone who needs help "will be connected to housing and supports within 21 days."

"We've seen other jurisdictions do it," Iveson said. "With the right housing in place we'd absolutely be able to end chronic homelessness."

It's a myth that some people who are homeless just don't want housing, he said.
"With the right housing in place, we'd absolutely be able to end chronic homelessness," Mayor Don Iveson said Tuesday. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

Some housing must include support systems, he said.

For example, people with addictions may need to be housed where their condition can be managed through harm reduction strategies, he said.

About 6,000 people have been housed through the city's Housing First program, Iveson said.

Of the remaining 4,000 who still need housing, about 1,000 of those people need supportive housing, which is expensive, he said.

"They need essentially long-term care in their housing," Iveson said.

The payoff is not immediate and therefore may take the provincial and federal governments some time to "get it," he said.

"You start building the permanent supportive housing unit tomorrow, takes a year to build it, takes another six months for someone to get into it and get stabilized."

But in 10 years, government would save enough in reduced healthcare visits, use of emergency services, and justice resources to pay off the $230 million cost of supportive housing, Iveson said.

Some may remain 'briefly' homeless

"For thousands of people in our community we have ended homelessness," said Susan McGee, with Homeward Trust.
She concedes there may always be some people who will fall into the category of "homeless."

"There are people who have housing crises and if they end up homeless, what we are talking about in terms of measuring is that the homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring," she said.

The success of Ambrose Place in the McCauley neighbourhood, which houses chronically homeless people with addictions, was held up as a prototype.

As a community league member, Mike Van Boom, with the capital region interfaith housing initiative, was initially opposed to the project, he told councillors.

He has since changed his mind about Ambrose Place.

"If they're as bad as it gets — well, they're fantastic," he said.

The city will be looking to the provincial and federal governments for most of the money needed to build the required supportive housing.

An announcement from the federal government is expected this fall, McGee said.