Edmonton looking into pilot for small, city-sanctioned homeless encampments

Edmonton is looking into sanctioning small-scale encampments this summer as a bridge to connect people experiencing homelessness to supportive housing.

Administration to report on options in 2 weeks

The sanctioned encampments are envisioned as small-scale with only a limited number of tents or temporary structures, unlike the large-scale Peikwewin camp from two years ago. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Edmonton is considering managing encampments this summer as part of its efforts to address homelessness.

A motion directing administration to prepare a report on small-scale sanctioned encampments was approved by city council Monday in an 11-2 vote.

Coun. Anne Stevenson, who made the motion, said earlier Monday that managed encampments could be one more tool in the city's toolbox.

"Our current encampment response really just leads to a cycle of encampments being moved, and then coming back — within hours, often," she said.

"So it's not really serving the folks who are living in the encampments or the surrounding businesses and residents as well."

The Ward O-day'min councillor said she envisions the camps as much smaller than the Camp Pekiwewin site two years ago, numbering between only five and 10 tents. The possibility for temporary structures, as some councillors prefer, was also raised during deliberation.

The intent would be to connect people with service providers and get them into supportive housing units, Stevenson said.

The city is planning to bring a number of supportive housing units online this summer: five modular buildings between July and September, and the converted former Old Strathcona Days Inn between July and August.

Administration is expected to return a report on options for a pilot in two weeks, which will include funding requirements and recommendations.

Administration previously made a recommendation against sanctioned encampments in April.

A jurisdictional review found managed encampments don't prevent people from camping elsewhere, nor do they help provide services to vulnerable people, according to the report.

Cities that have tried them found they create larger problems with safety, sanitation and conflict with neighbours.

Stevenson said operating the small-size camps as a bridge to supportive housing provides an exit strategy and would help mitigate the risk.

"I'm hoping it can be a win-win."

Administrative rethink

City manager Andre Corbould said administration had previously been thinking about encampments on a larger scale. Some service providers were uncomfortable with sanctioned encampments but one had recently asked about doing something small scale, he said.

Corbould said recent events had administration rethinking some of the city's approaches. 

"With some of the events in Chinatown, I think that sort of got us thinking again about how we could do this in a different way," he said.

Ward Anirniq Coun. Erin Rutherford questioned the difference in opinion expressed since the April report, saying there was no fundamentally different evidence on display.

"What has changed is the political context," Rutherford said. She was also critical of the timeline and the lack of consultation with people experiencing homelessness but ultimately voted in support. 

"I am curious about how our thoughts have evolved but it's on a thin rope for me."

Tackling homelessness has been a focal point for city council in recent years. Edmonton's homeless population nearly doubled through the pandemic, according to estimates from Homeward Trust.

A city auditor report estimated the cost of homeless initiatives across various branches of the city was around $24.8 million in 2021.

It identified that the city does not have an overall plan for its own internal work or a central oversight authority.

Several reports around housing and homelessness are set to go before council next week, including on the implementation of minimum shelter standards and work to create Indigenous-led shelters and housing.


Stephen Cook


Stephen Cook is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. He has covered stories on a wide range of topics with a focus on policy, politics, post-secondary education and labour. You can reach him via email at stephen.cook@cbc.ca.