24/7 temporary accommodation in works as City announces plan to help homeless Edmontonians

The City of Edmonton plans to soon open a temporary, 24-hour, seven-day-a-week pandemic accommodation facility for homeless and vulnerable Edmontonians.  

“City Council is committed to delivering dignified accommodation for people that is better than tents and safer than a camp,” said Mayor Don Iveson. “By the end of October.”  

The Mayor continued: “Our goal is to get everyone off the street this month and provide them pathways to get everyone into bridge housing and, ultimately, into supportive, long-term housing.” 

The Mayor announced that $8 million in federal-provincial pandemic relief money will go to setting up a City-owned facility as an accommodation space with health and housing support services until March 2021. 

The money, the Mayor said, comes from a one-time grant and not property tax dollars. 

The location of the temporary accommodation space has not yet been announced. 

Mayor Don Iveson, City Hall, Edmonton, October 5, 2020.

Humane, and helpful for economy

Mayor Iveson said the new temporary accommodation space is the humane thing to do. He said it will also help businesses.

“What we’re hearing, increasingly from our business community is one of the biggest risks to the resiliency of our economy, one of the biggest risks to attracting investment to our city, one of the biggest risks to getting people to come back downtown and back to Whyte Avenue and back to Alberta Avenue and back to 124 Street to support our local business that are struggling so much is the social disorder we’re seeing because homelessness has not been solved,” said Iveson.

A shielded, physically distanced Edmonton City Council considers plan to open a temporary accommodation facility as pandemic response continues, October 5, 2020.

Scale of human challenge

The announcement came at a live-streamed news conference after Edmonton City Council heard about the human scale of the challenge, and the teamwork needed to meet it. 

“With a recent COVID-19 outbreak at one of Edmonton’s largest emergency shelters and nearly 600 people sleeping outside, immediate housing options must be pursued and activated quickly, before winter arrives,” said Rob Smyth, Deputy City Manager of Citizen Services.

Housing agencies have housed 900 people since the pandemic started, Smyth said. The number of people experiencing homelessness has increased from 1,800 to 2,000.

Approximately 180 people become homeless in Edmonton each month. 

“This is not a static issue, it is an ongoing flow that needs to be managed,” said Smyth.

Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin, City Hall, Edmonton, October 5, 2020.

“That is not what this is”

Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin was clear about what the plan is, and isn’t. 

We appreciate that the City should not be providing permanent shelter accommodations as that is a provincial responsibility,” said Laughlin. 

“This is not what this is,” Laughlin said. 

“This is a plan to help our city’s most vulnerable citizens with a temporary 24/7 indoor accommodation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic with a specific plan to move them into bridge accommodation and then ultimately into longer term housing.” 

Bridge housing provides a short-term (typically three weeks or so) stay in a private suite such as the rooms being currently provided at the Coliseum Inn. The cost for that service is covered by other orders of government, not the City of Edmonton. 

“This means that we need to do this together with community agencies…”

Jackie Foord, City of Edmonton

The City will continue to create new bridge accommodations and work with federal and provincial governments to get capital and operating funding to increase Edmonton’s affordable housing supply. 

Through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and with the help of the Canadian Medical Association, the City of Edmonton has received a COVID-19 Community Response Fund allocation of $688,000 for bridge housing accommodation. 

The City is also negotiating with two dozen hotel owners to lease or purchase facilities to help the effort, said Iveson. 

“Many of the business owners we’re talking to really understand the logic of what the City has been asking for more than a decade in our work to end homelessness,” said Iveson. 

The new temporary accommodation facility will build on lessons learned at the Edmonton EXPO Centre.

Shape of the plan

Jackie Foord is the City of Edmonton’s Branch Manager of Social Development. Foord explained what the new temporary accommodation needs to offer to work. 

“If we want folks to leave encampments or the river valley, we need a place where they are comfortable, safe, and have access to a variety of services including housing workers, harm reduction services, recreation, and mental health supports,” Foord said. “We need to make sure what we do continues to support their needs.”

Foord said the recent use of the Edmonton EXPO Centre as a health and day drop-in centre provides a blueprint. With a significant improvement. 

“This service delivery model worked well at EXPO,” Foord said. “The difference in this model is that people will be able to stay overnight at the same place rather than busing to a different location.”

Foord stressed that the City of Edmonton’s plan is the city of Edmonton’s plan. 

“This means that we need to do this together with community agencies, who have the expertise to operate a facility like this and provide supportive services,” Foord said. 

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows Camp Pekiwewin in the Rossdale neighbourhood. Approximately 200 people now live at the Camp. We’ll update the story here on Transforming Edmonton as soon as official details take shape.