City council has unanimously voted to go with a new plan to house the chronically homeless. The vote came after an update that shows just over 200 of a proposed 1,000 units have been built in the more than eight years into the city’s 10 year plan to end homelessness.
The most recent homeless count, taken in October, showed there were 1,752 living on the streets, although that number has been criticized by advocates for the homeless as not showing a truer larger number.
READ MORE: Homeless numbers on the decline in Edmonton
Efforts to build supportive housing in various parts of the city have fallen short. The most notable instance was in Terwillegar. The city’s housing director Jay Freeman told council they’ve been working with the interfaith community to smooth over problems with local neighborhoods, and will do more in the next couple of years.
“On specific housing projects, as you’re aware particularly with surplus school sites, we have a very intensive community engagement process but there’s still considerable work to be done.”
Coun. Bryan Anderson said he’s been told the log jam, in holding up funds, came because the previous government had several ministries involved.
“There was literally millions of dollars sitting in an account.”
Mayor Don Iveson indicated, that is about to change.
“The new provincial government has at least tripled the overall investment in housing and is working to push those dollars out the door.”
He said council will know more in the next few weeks after the provincial and federal budgets are tabled. At that point a road map to building much needed supportive housing for the chronic “hard-to-house” population will be presented to council in a future report.
“That is the area where despite really good collaboration all around and good intentions, we are not where we need to be,” Ivseon said. “So the recommendation here is that we undertake some urgent and direct work principally with the provincial government but also potentially with Calgary to materialize the gains that we know will come.”
He said Calgary, Edmonton and the province can all get on the same page, through discussions on the city charter. Iveson has long argued that improved housing will cut policing, health care, and social disorder costs to the cities to offset the housing costs.
“It’s $21 million a year for ten years,” Iveson told reporters Tuesday. “At $1,600 a day for a long term homeless person to be warehoused at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, when that bed is needed for some one who’s actually sick, the cost of this permanent supportive housing is way cheaper, and the dignity for that patient is way higher and the social disorder is lower for the community. ”
“I’ve had some indications that the province is really keen to work with us,” Coun. Scott McKeen said. “As well, to come up with a strategy that will be efficient and effective and I know we have been in many ways but I think we have this last lost population that we must deal with.”
Coun. Ed Gibbons said he’ll be watching to see the city sticks with its new plan to spread supportive housing throughout the city, and not concentrate it in any specific neighborhood.