City taps federal, provincial funds to shelter homeless Edmontonians

The city is tapping into $8 million from the federal and provincial governments in an effort to end  homelessness before November.

City hopes to open new temporary facility by end of October

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson announced a new plan to shelter the rising number of Edmontonians sleeping rough. (City of Edmonton )

The city is tapping into $8 million from the federal and provincial governments in an effort to end homelessness before November.

On Monday, Mayor Don Iveson provided more details about the city's plan to shelter the growing number of Edmontonians sleeping rough including hundreds of people staying at two large encampments.

A new city-owned facility will offer 24/7 access, day programs and meal service, as well as embedded supports for addictions and mental health challenges.

Iveson said he hoped to be able to share the location Monday but will do so in a few days after more details are worked out.

"Our goal is to get everyone off the street this month in October and provide them pathways to get everyone into bridge housing, and ultimately into supportive long-term housing," Iveson told reporters. 

"And we want to do this as soon as possible because it is the humane thing to do, and because homelessness and social disorder is detrimental for our economic recovery."

The initiative is funded by one-time federal and provincial payments. Edmonton taxpayers are not directly paying for the shelter through their property taxes, Iveson said.

Further resources commitments from senior levels of government are still needed, Iveson added.

Over the summer, two encampments housing hundreds of people cropped up in Rossdale and Old Strathcona.

Campers say they have been drawn to the encampments by the sense of community, sensitivity to Indigenous culture, and a lack of barriers that includes privacy, a place to shelter with families, security, and supports for mental health and substance use.

Among their demands, organizers of the encampments have been calling for a new overnight shelter friendly to LGBTQ and Indigenous people that isn't run by a religious group, as well as food and first aid supplies.

On Monday, Iveson said the initiative will go a long way in addressing increasing social disorder caused by the pandemic.

The plan is also funded in part by money from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Canadian Medical Association.

City officials are in conversation with more than two dozen hotel owners about options to lease or purchase properties.

Iveson said support from the provincial government is needed for the plan to be a success.

"We do need the provincial government to step up within their jurisdiction with interim housing and supports and long term support commitments for those nurses, for those addictions treatment professionals, for those social workers to be embedded, to make this housing successful," Iveson said.

"This will cost them less than what they are spending today at the remand centre and in our hospitals … But in the interim here, we won't wait to have all those details sorted out. The city of Edmonton will act to get people an option off the street before the end of this month."

Iveson said he understands the fear communities may have if the shelter ends up in their neighbourhood, but it's outweighed by the cost of leaving people on the streets.

"If you have the right supports around people, the impacts are much lower than the impacts of homelessness that we see today," Iveson said.

"A larger facility will have to put all kinds of measures in place in order to ensure that it doesn't have spillover effects into the community that are unmanageable.

"I don't want to say it's going to be perfect because that's not a standard we can ever meet, even though we're always held to it. But I can tell you that whatever we do here is going to be better than leaving the situation not dealt with for another winter in these economic conditions with the pandemic, and where we clearly have the opportunity to do the right thing."