Edmonton needs plan to co-ordinate response to homelessness, city auditor says

A new report from the city auditor’s office on how the city co-ordinates its internal homelessness activities found that Edmonton doesn't have a plan to define its strategy and co-ordinate activities. It also lacks a single dedicated position or body accountable for that work.

City has no plan, no co-ordinator and no evaluation system, report finds

A new report from the city auditor says Edmonton needs to create a plan to co-ordinate its internal reponse to the issue of homelessness. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Edmonton's city auditor says the city needs to make a plan to better co-ordinate its efforts to combat homelessness.

A new report set to go before councillors June 17 outlines an investigation by the auditor's office into how the city co-ordinates its internal activities related to addressing the complex issue.

Homelessness has been a focal point for city council as Edmonton's population of people experiencing homelessness has nearly doubled through the pandemic.

In April, an estimated 2,700 people were experiencing homelessness in Edmonton.

The audit found that the city doesn't have a plan to define its strategy and co-ordinate activities. The audit also found the city lacks a single dedicated position or body accountable for that work.

An integrated approach is needed to avoid organizational inefficiencies and "effectively address the complex nature of homelessness," the report says.

It notes that ending homelessness falls under federal and provincial jurisdiction. The federal government, province and city have designated the non-profit Homeward Trust to lead Edmonton's plan to end homelessness.

The city provides an annual subsidy of $1.2 million to further Homeward Trust's work.

However, the city itself also performs a variety of roles and activities to respond to homelessness. While there are some co-ordination bodies of limited scope, there is no corporate-wide link to guide all the activities, the audit found.

The report says this has "created an incomplete understanding of the total cost to the city in carrying out these activities."

The audit gathered information on the city's various initiatives across multiple branches — noting they are not available in a consolidated source — with a total cost of around $24.8 million in 2021.

A list of costs associated with the city's homelessness response, according to a city auditor report. (City of Edmonton)

The lack of co-ordinating oversight has also resulted in challenges balancing different operational priorities, according to the report.

It uses the example of peace officers balancing the needs to keep public spaces safe and secure with the values and outcomes to ensure those spaces remain accessible for people experiencing homelessness. It says the city's community standards branch adopted an approach to educate, refer or warn before ticketing.

That's led to a decrease in tickets issued.

"However, without a corporate-wide plan and outcomes measurement in place, it is not clear how this approach impacts the city's overall strategy to respond to homelessness," the report says.

Referrals by Edmonton bylaw increased as tickets decreased from 2019 to 2021, according to data from a city auditor report. (City of Edmonton)

Edmonton has an overall target to end chronic or episodic homelessness in Edmonton, evaluated by the number of people experiencing homelessness as estimated by Homeward Trust.

But the audit report says that despite some programs having their own measures and targets, the city has not yet developed performance measures for its overall response.

"Without performance measures and evaluation, it is difficult to assess whether the city's homelessness plan and activities are effective and impactful."

Recommended approach

The report makes three recommendations:

  • Develop a corporate-wide homelessness plan that defines the strategy and integrates and co-ordinates the city's internal response to homelessness. 
  • Assign accountability for the delivery of the corporate-wide homelessness plan and its activities. 
  • Develop performance measures and evaluate whether the corporate-wide homelessness plan is achieving the desired results.

City administration will undertake all three, according to a related report, with an implementation date of Dec. 31, 2023.


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.