Edmonton passes new enhanced encampment response plan, increases housing, social services

The city has passed the enhanced encampment response plan — a pilot project that will kick off a change for Edmontonians living rough.

The project, which is taking a new approach to encampments and affordable housing, was passed by city council Monday and will begin this summer.

The city and community organizations have been advocating for a change in the process of housing for the city’s most vulnerable population for months, especially as encampment-related complaints soar.

“The key concept here is that we are not proposing an overhaul of our encampment response or an entirely new response that’s going to solve sleeping rough for the 750 people that are outside,” said Candace Noble, director of housing and outreach at Bissell Centre.

The plan, she said, is to test whether they can displace people less and get them into housing quicker. The hope is to also focus on safety by decreasing the amount of risk in encampments.

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The plan will pull 100 of the 750 people listed as living rough (on the streets without shelter) and target them with housing efforts, as well as prevention and safety measures, said Noble. This includes helping people keep their campsites clean, and educate on fire prevention and community safety.

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“Our hope is that by targeting those individuals specifically, supporting them to keep their encampment site safe and clean so we don’t have to move them on a weekly basis, that we will be able to increase safety and decrease the time it takes for housing,” Noble said.

While the city and community organizations have worked collaboratively on ways to support Edmonton’s houseless population for years, Noble said this is the first time they are focusing on a specific group of people and targeting the with both city- and community-led interventions.

A sanctioned encampment was also proposed to city council, but Noble said that the passed plan allows people to chose where they want to stay while they wait for housing.

“It’s very clear that council and everybody in our community realizes that the resources it takes to clean up an encampment just to have them move across the street or down the block is not effective,” she said.

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“This is definitely just one part of a systemic approach,” Noble said. “It’ won’t be the solution for ending encampments, but it’s one way to approach intervention. Without the other systemic pieces … it is only a drop in the bucket.”

It can take upwards of 60 days for someone to be connected to housing because of the extensive processes it takes to get someone set up, said Christel Kjenner, the city’s director of affordable housing and homelessness.

She said, currently, 30 people per month are being housed on their own, and it’s not a fast enough rate.

“Encampments are ultimately a symptom of a lack of affordable, supportive housing, and challenges accessing mental health, addiction and other supports,” Kjenner said. “Until there’s an adequate supply of affordable housing, it’s going to be really difficult to dramatically reduce the number of people who are experiencing homelessness.

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“In the past, encampment strategy has really been focused on preventing the entrenchment of large encampments — and it’s very fairly successful to that — but it hasn’t been as successful as scaling up the resources needed to meet the increasing demands on the social side.”

This project, she said, really “beefs up” those supports that are needed.

Police and peace officers, Homeward Bound, Bissell Centre and Boyle Street Community Services and Kjenner’s team with the city will all be involved in the project this summer.

Kjenner added that the sprawl of encampments seen across the city is a natural response to the increase in homelessness that Edmonton is facing. She said she hopes that increasing the resources available to people who have moved their encampments out of the downtown core will help with the overall problem.

The city will continue to use its risk-based approach to encampments while the project is underway this summer.

— with files from Sarah Komadina, Global News

&© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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