Edmonton to revamp camp strategy amid criticism of current approach
The City of Edmonton is re-evaluating its approach to homeless camps as the public continues to criticize the current strategy which it says has resulted in camps being created as soon as they are closed.
The city’s community services branch is working on ideas to change the process, based in part on the work and consultation it has done over the past few months – including with 86 people living outside the city. course of the last year.
Managers presented the information to city councilors at a community and utility meeting on Tuesday. The report includes quotes and insights from camp residents.
During the consultation, three out of four participants identified themselves as Aboriginal. Of the women who slept outdoors, 87% were Aboriginal.
“We are recyclable people,” one participant told city staff.
The majority of participants indicated that they did not prefer to stay outdoors.
Many people experiencing homelessness expressed fatigue with waiting to be housed but not getting housing or having the support needed to maintain their housing.
« Being displaced means nobody knows where we are and we have to wait for services because we can’t be found, » said another.
As of mid-September this year, the city’s 311 line received 6,868 complaints about encampments, down from 6,204 in 2021, and down from 2,171 in 2018, according to the report.
Ingrid Hoogenboom, head of the strategy department, described some of the challenges.
« When we act quickly to clear camps, camp residents are displaced and the time it takes to connect them to services or housing is even longer, » Hoogenboom said.
On average, it can take 59 days to move someone from staying away to permanent accommodation, and much longer for people with more complex needs.
« There are not enough resources currently in the system to provide appropriate housing for all those currently living in encampments, » she said.
Nowhere to go
Several people joined the meeting to tell the councilors what they observed this year.
Nadine Chalifoux, president of the Edmonton Housing and Homelessness Coalition, encouraged councilors to attend the dismantling of a camp, arguing that the current approach is painful for the people living there.
« City and police personnel are coming in with vehicles and equipment and telling them they only have a few minutes to grab whatever they can and get out, » Chalifoux said.
They then move up the road and set up camp elsewhere, she said.
Kristine Kowalchuk, president of the Edmonton River Valley Conservation Coalition (ERVCC) and resident of Riverdale, near Dawson Park, oversaw crews tearing down camps over the summer.
“People are sometimes moved without having the possibility to move,” she said. « This was confirmed last week when I spoke with two women who were sitting on the edge of Dawson Park as city and police trucks dismantled the camp, the women told me they had no just nowhere to go. »
The number of people identifying as homeless has doubled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
Christel Kjenner, the city’s director of affordable housing and homelessness, said the temporary emergency shelter spaces offered in the first two years of the pandemic have been closed, leaving about 620 spaces from the 1 120 previous.
This could contribute to the increase in encampments, she told advisers.
Early next year, they plan to test what they call prototypes of what might work best, which could include Indigenous-run camps and shelters.
Affordable Housing Strategy
The update on encampment strategy and homelessness issues followed a morning of speeches on creating more affordable housing in Edmonton.
Approximately 49,000 households in Edmonton are considered to be in core housing need. This means that they spend more than 30% of their pre-tax income on housing.
According to Statistics Canada, Edmonton is expected to have 59,400 households in core housing need by 2026 across all income thresholds.
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi suggested the city rethink its approach to affordable housing.
“We never stop building roads, we never stop building LRTs, we never stop building fire stations and recreation centers, but we tend to stop building affordable housing” , did he declare.
Kjenner noted that over the past four years the city has built about 2,800 new units, so there is a significant shortfall.
« We know there’s a long way to go to close the gap, » she said. « The most important thing [toward] closing that gap is consistency because I think what hasn’t worked in the past is when we stop and start again and do a little here and a little there, » she said. .
The administration plans to complete its affordable housing strategy by the middle of next year.