Homelessness was seen by many Edmontonians as a city-core issue. But over the past year, with issues such as the pandemic and Camp Pekiwewin bringing visibility to their vulnerability, homelessness seems to have entered the consciousness of people across the city. Many have told me their deep concern for the homeless population — concerns such as safety, lack of affordable housing projects, and wasted government spending, the kind that uses taxes to answer complex issues with band-aid solutions.
As someone with decades of experience in social services (you can learn more about this on my website), I have worked directly with members of the chronically homeless population. I have researched numerous local and international strategies to end homelessness. And, like many Edmontonians with a heart for our city’s vulnerable, I watched this past year as COVID-19 swept through the homeless population, and necessary services were closed.
I believe it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are five steps we should take to markedly improving the lives of Edmonton’s homeless population, each of which will work towards ending homelessness in our city.
In 2015, Medicine Hat ended homelessness in its borders by implementing the Housing First Model. While this is excellent, some might argue that comparing a city with a population of 65,000 to Edmonton’s 1,000,000 is facile. However, compared to Finland, whose population totals 5.5 million, who are on track to end homelessness in their country by 2027, Edmonton’s obstacles seem far more manageable. The Housing First model is supported by numerous academics, and shows objective, material improvements in unhoused populations.
While the government has made efforts to expand homeless shelters, this is a band-aid solution that offers little in the way of fixing an unhoused person’s situation. Permanent Supportive Housing offers 24/7 support to those in crisis, with round-the-clock care and community, much like an elder care facility. These facilities provide material improvements to the lives of those who are at risk, but also offer much better tools to begin the process of lifting people out of poverty. If you are interested in learning more about these styles of centers, I recommend researching Iris Court in Bonnie Doon and the downtown adjacent Westwood Manor.
It is difficult to give more examples of Permanent Supportive Housing in Edmonton, because few other facilities exist. However, these facilities require a higher cost to operate than what overnight shelters would usually cost. But offset with the job creating costs that will provide Edmontonians with much needed jobs, the other major benefit is additional resources to remove the strain of millions of dollars in annual emergency responses that come from treating our unhoused population.
Using city land has numerous benefits to getting projects such as this off the ground, including reduction in costs which can make all the difference in turning a housing project from a dream into a reality. And there’s no shortage of available, municipal-owned plots — looking at the city’s records of available land, there are nearly 134 Edmonton-owned areas that could be used, one-tenth of the total in the city.
Two examples of projects that are already underway are King Edward Park and Terrace Heights.
We regularly see proposals to cut the red tape around commercial and business development in our city, whether it’s allowing businesses to file for permits online or streamlining regulations to make change happen faster. We need to see members of city council support initiatives to improve the lives of our at-risk neighbours. Thankfully, conversations around permanent housing are not foreign to city council, but issues persist in the lack of commitment that arises from council when it’s time to make these decisions, lengthening the process of an already exacerbated issue.
COVID-19 emptied numerous offices, and that change is likely to stay for a majority of office spaces across the city. Calgary saw an opportunity to transform an unused tower into the perfect location for affordable housing, complete with access to public transportation, and the inclusion of transition and support services. Edmonton is primed to do the same.
These are simple solutions that don’t have to be discussed over the course of a decade, or cost tax-payers enormous sums (if anything most will either be cost neutral or possibly save us money long-term), and they have shown results in other jurisdictions around the world. We are in a position an enormously advantageous position given our cities availability of resources, and I believe that with the right perspective, experience, and passion for this issue, I can help take us closer to the step of ending homelessness in Edmonton, something we can all be proud of.
To close: I learned some of my first card tricks from Jim. I met Jim at the George Spady Centre, an overnight shelter, where Jim came to sleep and find community and then during the day he wandered the streets.
Between coffee and conversations, Jim was looking for community and a sense of belonging. It was here where I understood the importance of PSH, so that Jim did not need to wander the streets during the day, leaving at 8 a.m. to come back at 7 p.m. He could have 24/7 support. He could have a home.
When I hear political solutions to end the homeless problem in Edmonton, I struggle to believe they’ll have their intended effect. What I have watched help people tackle the underlying root of their homelessness — whether driven by mental instability, addictions, or a combination of several factors — was not a limited stay in a clean facility. It was meaningful relationship. It was community.
I believe in Ward Metis as a community. I have seen that, despite a difference in priorities, we can come together and make beautiful things in our neighbourhoods. And we can have lasting effects on one another, whether you are helping someone rise up out of poverty, or you can take the time to teach someone how to shuffle a deck of cards.
Help me to end homelessness by donating to my campaign.
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Because conversation is the first step to building a community Ward Metis can continue to be proud of.