The City of Edmonton is exploring ways to support homeless residents through the warmer months as all three temporary 24-7 shelters are set to close this spring.
On Monday, council’s executive committee endorsed an extension of the Tipinawâw shelter at the Edmonton Convention Centre to April 30. With the original funding of $8.5 million slated only until the end of February, this extension will require an additional $2.2 million. If approved by a council vote Thursday, the dollars will come from the city’s reserve.
Although happy to see the extension, community advocate Cameron Noyes said shelters aren’t the long-term answer and he’d prefer to see more residents move to permanent, supportive housing. At the current rate, Noyes said the end of April won’t be long enough to ensure everyone can be housed and that people don’t wind up in large encampments like last summer.
“We shouldn’t have to extend because they’re supposed to have houses by now,” Noyes said. “People have been waiting for that, they’ve been expecting that. Today will relieve a bit of it for at least a month.”
Deputy city manager Rob Smyth told councillors Monday the extension will allow the city and community agencies to prepare for the transition of individuals to other facilities and services. Although nothing is set in stone, Smyth said this could include the use of smaller city facilities or hotels for both day-use sites and shelters.
“We’ve been working with Alberta Health Services, with community and social services and Homeward Trust to look at other possible opportunities in our city, which other buildings might be feasible and even scoping in some hotels into that thinking,” Smyth told councillors.
Since Oct. 30, the 24-7 shelter has provided day services to 4,180 visitors and overnight accommodations to 2,287 people. According to data from Homeward Trust, there are currently more than 2,000 people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton. More than 300 people newly entered homelessness and 110 people moved into housing last month.
The two other temporary 24-7 shelters at Commonwealth Stadium and the Cessco warehouse shelter will also be closing this spring.
With more people becoming homeless, Noyes said he is calling on the city to rapidly move forward on finding permanent housing, which is the plan. The city is working toward 900 units of supportive housing by 2024 and has said shelters are a temporary solution until enough units are available.
“They were set up with certain expectations and they were let down again and this community is one that’s used to that sort of thing,” Noyes said. “It’s just another disappointment in a sea of disappointment, which is most of their lives.”
The city did take one step closer to its housing goals Monday with the committee’s approval to move ahead on a 60-unit supportive housing development in Westmount. This is the fifth supportive housing site identified by the city, the four others having already been approved, which could create 210 units of housing by early 2022.
Three of the five sites have received funding, with applications made to the federal government’s housing program on the two others.