'A lot more work to do': Homelessness falling in Edmonton, report shows

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton has been cut in half since a peak in 2008, according to the latest update from Homeward Trust.

Number of people who are homeless nearly half than 2008 peak

Homeward Trust says Edmonton is on track to end chronic homelessness by 2022. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton has been cut in half since a peak in 2008, according to the latest update from Homeward Trust. 

As of August, 1,607 Edmontonians were considered homeless, from sleeping rough to staying in transitional housing. 

That was down from more than 3,000 in 2008 when Edmonton's homeless population hit a peak, and from 1,923 people in January 2019.

Edmonton is now on track to end chronic homelessness by 2022, according to Homeward Trust staff on Thursday.

The trajectory puts the city two years behind its 2020 goal but signals an improvement over last year when the non-profit projected the homeless population would increase.

"I can't help but feel really good about the work those organizations are doing. Of course, we still have a lot more work to do," said Homeward Trust CEO Susan McGee. 

Homeward Trust staff presented a community update at a gathering of housing and homeless-sector partners in Edmonton on Thursday. More than 100 people attended.

Justice system often not the answer, police chief says

In a keynote speech, Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee said police need to be leaders in diverting people experiencing homelessness away from the justice system and toward housing services. 

"The justice system isn't going to be the answer for all these people because they just keep coming back," McFee said, highlighting the overlapping challenges facing homeless populations, including a higher rate of mental health issues and substance abuse disorder. 

"We need to be a connector to services that are going to get them to help." 

Homeward Trust launched a program with police in June making it easier for officers to refer people experiencing homelessness to a housing team.

Police have also partnered with Alberta Health Services to create nine teams where officers patrol alongside mental health professionals, McFee said. 

Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee delivers his keynote speech at a community update on the city's plan to end homelessness. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

A key to ending chronic homelessness, McGee said, is building permanent supportive housing to offer on-site health and social supports. 

City asking for supportive housing funding

Permanent supportive housing is one of the city's top priorities in its budget submissions to the Alberta government. The city is asking the province for $124 million delivered over seven years to help build 900 units.

Edmonton is also trying to secure $80 million in capital funding from the federal government under the National Housing Strategy. 

"Capital is really critical and many organizations are looking for more capital so we can provide the necessary units in addition to the support," McGee said.

A panel at the community update on Edmonton's plan to end homelessness. From left to right: E4C CEO Barb Spencer, Homeward Trust CEO Susan McGee, Christel Kjenner, director, housing and homelessness at City of Edmonton and police Chief Dale McFee. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

The latest numbers show 9,310 people previously experiencing homelessness have been housed since the city adopted its housing-first strategy and plan to end homelessness in 2009. 

Indigenous people remain drastically over-represented in the city's homeless population. Indigenous people make up six per cent of the city's population but about 65 per cent of people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton identify as Indigenous.

Homeward Trust trained 584 front-line workers through workshops on Indigenous ceremony and culture, according to Thursday's update, to connect more Indigenous people experiencing homelessness with cultural resources.