Edmonton councillors hear powerful, personal stories of homelessness

It was an emotional Tuesday morning at Edmonton City Hall, as councillors at community and public services committee heard personal and powerful stories from people with lived experiences of homelessness, addiction, abuse and loss.

The lived experiences are part of a phased process to help the development of Edmonton’s updated affordable housing strategy.

“The nice places are way over my budget, so I settle on what I can afford, which brings me to the worst places in the city to rent,” Cynthia Cardinal told the committee.

“The conditions I live in are unsafe, but I cannot afford to move to a better building. I have applied for seniors housing but there’s a long wait list.”

Read more: City looking at different options to address increase in homelessness in Edmonton

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Cardinal was one of more than a dozen people who spoke to the councillors virtually from another location set up for for the meeting.

“As a single parent with a child, it was very difficult for me to find a house. For one, credit checks; I didn’t have a job. And co-signers; I didn’t have anyone in my life that could do that for me,” explained Kelly Beaver.

A significant shortage of housing is anticipated over the next four years, according to research from the city.

Read more: Federal government invests $24M on new affordable housing in southwest Edmonton

Edmonton is expected to have 59,403 households in core housing need by 2026 across all income thresholds, with most of them renters.

Many of the speakers Tuesday also brought forward suggested solutions for the councillors.

“Are there bus routes close by (to affordable housing) so someone can get to work safely? Are there schools nearby that you don’t have to cab it to just to get your daughter to school or so that you can get to school yourself?” said Beaver.

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She also suggested councillors consider the design of affordable homes.

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“What each person needs and the family. How many people are in that family? And how secure that house is.”

Following the meeting, many councillors spoke about the importance of hearing from the speakers.

“They’re very moving stories. They add to policy. I have always believed that people’s lived experience is a form of expertise that we need to tap into,” Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said.

“Very powerful stories. Very painful stories to hear,” Ward pihêsiwin Coun. Tim Cartmell said.

“What we heard today is anecdotal. How do we translate that into overarching policies?”

Read more: Increase in people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton: ‘No one should die alone in a cold dark ravine’

Coun. Keren Tang was visibly emotional following the speakers.

“I think we’re all moved by these stories. It’s one thing to be moved. It’s another to say what are we actually going to do with our policy to reflect these stories?” Tang said to reporters.

Councillors will continue this discussion on Oct. 11.

The updated affordable housing strategy will go to city council in 2023.

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