Edmonton

Crisis team needed to help house Edmonton's homeless, councillors say

Councillors on the city's community and public services committee lost patience with administration Wednesday, demanding quicker action on housing for homeless people with chronic addictions and mental health issues.

'Frankly, I don't think city administration is as focused and active on this as we should be'

A city report shows nearly 30 per cent of emergency shelter beds in Edmonton were unused on any given night in 2018. (CBC)

Councillors on the city's community and public services committee lost patience with administration Wednesday, demanding quicker action on housing for homeless people with chronic addictions and mental health issues.

"I just have no patience for these delays on an issue that we've identified so many times as critical and as a priority," Coun. Michael Walters said following the meeting. 

"Frankly, I don't think city administration is as focused and active on this as we should be and we need to get really focused."

The committee directed administration to come up with a plan to fast-track 600 units of permanent supportive housing around the city.

Administration was asked to form a team with staff from the city's housing, planning, emergency services and land departments and report back on May 22 with a plan. 

"Sort of a SWAT team designed and built for speed, so we don't hear stories of someone who's willing to build permanent supportive housing but can't get a permit because they get hung up and ensnared in red tape in our planning department," Walters said.

Walters noted that council passed a motion a year ago to streamline the permitting process and the results still weren't available.

The permanent supportive housing projects would include between 12 and 30 apartments staffed day and night. Walters said they would have little impact on neighbourhoods as they would be secure and well managed. 

The issue of permanent supportive housing came up while the committee was discussing a report on interim housing and homeless camps in Edmonton.

Shelters broken

Coun. Scott McKeen has been saying for more than a year that the city's shelter system is broken.

There's good reason nearly 30 per cent of emergency beds go unused on any given night, he noted.

"Evicting people at 6 in the morning, making them line up to get in — some of their other processes are 100 years old [and] not compassionate," McKeen said.

The processes may even perpetuate homelessness and perpetuate old myths about the unworthy poor," he said.

Councillors Scott McKeen, left, and Michael Walters, right, insisted city staff move more quickly in creating permanent supportive housing units. (CBC)

The report on interim housing, which showed that the majority of the empty beds — 207 of the city's 716 emergency shelters bed — are provided by Hope Mission for single men.

The report recommends creating a 24-7 service at shelters so people don't have to line up in the evening and then be asked to leave early the next morning.

Councillors also called for administration to engage the province on "interim steps" to fast-track temporary housing, such as modulars, trailers and pre-fabricated units.

The committee asked administration to report back with an update on Aug. 21.

@natashariebe