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Fifteen years after the original strategy, Edmonton has a new plan for homelessness

The City of Edmonton is updating its plan to end homelessness, 15 years after it launched the original 10-year plan in 2009. 

The original strategy helped reduce homelessness by nearly half, a city report shows. The plan was updated in 2017 and since then, the city and agencies helped develop 644 units of supportive housing and housed more than 8,500 people. 

The 2024 strategy will have no timeline. 

Susan McGee, CEO of Homeward Trust, presented the plan to council’s community and public services committee on Tuesday. 

“I think the value of putting a time on 10-year plans initially was not a naive gesture that we would be resolving all issues in that time, but holding ourselves to a strategy and it still has value to do that.”

They will explore timelines in specific targets when the plan is complete, McGee told the committee.

Goal to reach “functional zero”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have become homeless and chronic needs have become more complex, driving the need to clarify roles within agencies and organizations, the report says.  

The goal is to reach what Homeward Trust calls “Functional Zero,”‘ making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring.

In 2016, Homeward Trust, which coordinates funding and housing programs in Edmonton, counted 1,752 homeless people; as of April this year, 3,262 people identified as homeless. 

“What is really, really significantly changed from 15 years ago is the agency of individuals and their expectation that the system work better and more effectively for them,” McGee said. 

Homeward Trust has worked on the update since last spring, in conjunction with the city, Indigenous firm, pipikwan pêhtâkwan and a strategic planning firm, Y-Station Ltd.

The research between July and September 2023 included consulting 154 people who are  homeless or with experience of being homeless.

Alarming spike in deaths of homeless population

2 months ago

Duration 2:17

Edmonton has seen a staggering increase in the number of homeless people who die annually over the past five years.

The agencies spoke to people at shelters and drop-in centres at Hope Mission, Boyle Street Community Services, the George Spady Society, the Elizabeth Fry Society, at supportive housing complexes and at encampments. 

Overall, people said there is a need for more appropriate supports and a better supply of affordable housing.

Over the next five years, Edmonton needs another 1,400 to 1,700 units of supportive housing with varying levels of social and medical support and 150 to 250 units of transitional bridge housing, the research shows. 

The plan includes ten draft recommendations, such as getting more sectors involved, embedding Indigenous culture into programs, improving the quality of shelters, and focusing more on youth.

Province’s navigation centre

Chalifoux also criticized the province’s navigation centre in the inner city, which it opened in January during a crackdown on encampments. 

She called it a duplication of services that other agencies already offer, where people in the community are more likely to go. 

“They don’t trust a navigation centre that’s new, that has no reputation, no relationship with these people,” Chalifoux said. “And unfortunately that’s a failure, a huge failure on our part.”

A spokesperson for the ministry of seniors, community and social services, Alexandru Cioban said the centre has been critical to help clean up and stabilize the dangerous encampment situation in Edmonton. 

“The navigation centre has been widely praised by our nonprofit partners, indigenous communities, and most importantly, the clients that work with the centre,” Cioban said in an email to CBC News Tuesday. 

To date, more than 1,550 people have accessed the navigation and support centre with 390 referred to housing programs, Cioban said. 

Sohi said he’s waiting to hear concrete results. 

“Some issues have been identified, particularly when people are referred, say to housing. Are they actually able to access housing?” Sohi asked during the meeting. “I think that’s something that our administration has identified as a gap as well from the Navigation Centre.”

Homeward Trust will finalize the plan and launch it in June.

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