Edmonton

Edmonton homeless 'wellness plan' should go beyond inner city, councillor argues

Edmonton's chronically homeless population and those with addiction problems will get a new holistic wellness centre if city council and community members can agree on where the services should be set up.

'We haven't gotten done what we need to get done,' Mayor Don Iveson says about homelessness

Edmonton has an estimated 1,700 living on the streets, according to a 2016 count. (CBC)

Edmonton's chronically homeless population and those with addiction problems will get a new holistic wellness centre if city council and community members can agree on where the services should be set up.

City councillors are pondering an "Inner City Wellness Plan," which in its current form incorporates five Edmonton neighbourhoods known for homelessness and social problems: McCauley, Boyle, downtown, Chinatown and Little Italy.

At an executive committee meeting Tuesday, Coun. Scott McKeen asked staff to expand the scope of the plan instead of centring it around the inner city. 

"My fear is that if you put a really large-scale social service hub in the core communities, that you will further anchor poverty, homelessness, chronic addictions ... into those communities, and I don't think that's fair." 
“We really have to be imaginative and (have) creative ideas on this,” Coun. Scott McKeen said about the city's wellness plan. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

The sentiment was echoed by Phil O'Hara with the McCauley Community League, who spoke before the council committee. He believes the plan should include the whole city, not just inner-city neighbourhoods.

O'Hara also asked council to speak to the province to stop plans for a holistic wellness centre until the city has finalized its official wellness plan.

Boyle Street Community Services is putting together a proposal to co-locate a number of social services in a wellness centre, possibly in the former Edmonton Remand Centre building. 

"I don't understand why we'd want to proceed with going ahead with very specific proposals until we figure out what we need. What's the bigger picture?" O'Hara said.

Mayor Don Iveson said that after years of talking about homelessness, he wants to see action.

"How much longer are we going to study this?" Iveson said in response to O'Hara's request.  

"We haven't gotten done what we need to get done. That is no longer satisfactory to me, and I don't think it's satisfactory to the people who live and do business in the community or for the vulnerable people whose needs we're not meeting very effectively."

O'Hara insisted the complex issues wouldn't be solved overnight.

McKeen also suggested looking at housing options before finalizing the wellness plan. 
The former remand centre in downtown Edmonton is one proposed site for a future wellness centre. (CBC)

"What are the opportunity costs if we put $60-80 million in a purpose-built facility or in retrofitting the remand centre as far as using that money for permanent supportive housing units throughout Edmonton."

"We really have to be imaginative and [have] creative ideas on this," McKeen suggested.

Lindsay Daniller with the REACH Edmonton Council for Safe Communities said various agencies need to gather data and consider what it means.

"At all levels, we need to connect all these dots," Daniller told CBC News Tuesday. "Let's build a map, let's plot it out better."

Iveson agreed to reconsider the language in the wellness plan, and recommended council revisit it next week.

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