Number of homeless people in Edmonton expected to grow, city report says

The number of people experiencing homelessness has doubled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and is expected to get worse, according to the city of Edmonton’s new homelessness and encampment strategy. 

City staff estimates 700 to 800 people sleeping outside each night

Camp Pekiwewin started in the summer of 2020, before the city shut it down in the fall, and moved people to the Edmonton Convention Centre. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

The number of people experiencing homelessness has doubled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and is expected to increase, according to the City of Edmonton's new homelessness and encampment strategy. 

The report, prepared by city administration for Monday's meeting of council's community and public services committee, says both the city and community partners expect "continued growth" in outdoor encampments and people without shelter this summer. 

In 2016, the city's 311 service received 790 calls about encampments. There were more than 6,200 requests in 2021. 

Christel Kjenner, the director of affordable housing and homelessness at the City of Edmonton, said the pandemic erased all the gains made since 2008, when the number of unhoused people was at a peak.

"We'd actually reduced our overall number by 45 per cent since 2008," she said. 

"Now we are seeing a significant number of people experiencing homelessness on any given night. There's approximately 2,800 people in our city with no permanent home, and we estimate that approximately 700 to 800 of those folks are sleeping outside on any given night."

The report lays out the city's plan for dealing with encampments and people sleeping outside this year.

Workers from Boyle Street Community Services, the Bissell Centre, Edmonton police will work alongside city staff members including park rangers and an encampment clean-up crew.  Work is starting on a new Indigenous-led team to provide outreach to the homeless community. 

The availability of bridge housing, temporary living units for people awaiting more permanent housing, is another solution available for outreach teams. Edmonton city council approved $4.8 million to extend existing bridge housing to the end of 2022. 

The city is also expanding the number of fire hydrants converted into stations for filling water bottles this year from five to 15.

One of the factors affecting the availability of beds  is the end of pandemic emergency shelter funding from the Alberta government in March.

The report estimates this will create a 44 per cent drop in the number of shelters spaces (1,135 beds to 634 beds).

Anne Stevenson, Ward O-day'min councillor, raised the idea of a managed encampment at a city council meeting earlier this month. 

The report dismisses the idea.

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

Cities that have tried them like Vancouver found they create larger problems with safety, sanitation and conflict with neighbours, the report said.