Camp Pekiwewin in Rossdale on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020 in Edmonton. PHOTO BY GREG SOUTHAM /Postmedia

You can view the Edmonton Journal story here

The Problem

Homelessness is a growing problem affecting almost every major city and Edmonton is no different.  The numbers of homeless have been steadily increasing over the past few years.  With COVID-19 and the challenging state of the economy, it has now expedited itself into a crisis.

Without question, these human beings are deserving of dignity, respect, and our assistance.  Our city is a community that cares for its neighbours. It always has and it always will.  Anytime there is a citizen in dire need, we must rise to offer help.

When our city decided to “End Homelessness” over a decade ago, I had mixed feelings. This city, council, and administration have a history of applauding their bold plans before the ink has even dried.  When presented with significant failure, they often refuse to make remedies or admit their mistakes. For instance, only a short while ago, our Mayor “pledged to end homelessness by the fall” in a period of only 10 weeks…

The situation has worsened.  Actually, to be completely honest, it is out of control.

We are currently witnessing extreme lawlessness Downtown and on Whyte Avenue.  We cannot make inroads on the homeless file at the expense of ordinary business and residents.

Root Causes of Homelessness

The root causes of homelessness are not the same for each individual.  In no way will I try and fit this complex issue into a simple box, but here are the main root causes:

  1. Mental Illness
  2. Addictions
  3. Affordability / Economic

Part of the problem has been trying to lump together these 3 distinct profiles into a single pathway.  This is impossible and has lead to a collapse in supportive services. You cannot put dozens or hundreds of these people into a homeless complex and expect positive results.

Shelters

Shelters should be a temporary solution.  They should provide a safe, supportive, and substance-free environment for our homeless to get access to meals, shelter, and supportive services.  The people who go to work everyday, to work in a shelter, have my complete admiration.

I’m going to be blunt.  I don’t care if you are on the right or the left.  If someone is in need of food, we find a way to feed them.  Period.  Case closed.

That is why I was so disturbed to find out some shelters were not providing three meals per day.  Waking a homeless person up at 6am and pushing them out on the streets without food in their stomach is unacceptable.  I recently brought forward a motion to set Minimum Shelter Standards in Edmonton.  I am looking forward to working on this file and improving our shelters.

Part 1: Treatment

I am confident, those with (1) Mental Illness and (2) Addictions cannot be immediately housed without proper treatment.

In the past administration, I have witnessed our 10 year plan to end homelessness and it’s failure.  In all fairness, two past provincial administrations (both NDP and UCP) have tried to partner with the city.  The problem is our 10 year plan to end homeless is not a coherent, actionable, or responsible plan. The City of Edmonton has focused on building expensive, complex-style housing and the only partnership with the province has been requests for financing.  This must change.

Regardless of who is in power at the Alberta legislature, partisanship is not going to get the job done.  If our city needs resources addressed, including inadequate mental heath or addictions support services, then we need to address it directly with the province.  This is not technically in the city’s mandate, but the city has a moral obligation to ask for help when required.

We have the opportunity to work with our provincial government, the ones in charge of public health and be advocates for those suffering.  Let’s put partisanship aside.  When I saw the announcement for 400 new treatment beds to battle addictions, I became hopeful we are heading into the right direction.  This is a 30% increase in our current provincial capacity, and it is a great start.   I know these beds and the professional providing care would save lives and reduce the negative effects of addictions in our community, including one of the root causes of homelessness.  Additionally, I want to see similar supportive services take shape in regards to mental health.

The City of Edmonton will become responsible partners and help expedite those with addictions and mental health into provincial programs for treatment.  Once treatment is completed at a provincial facility, these individuals will be able to be “home-ready candidates” and be able to transition immediately into the program I will explain in the below article.

Part 2: “Housable” Clients

Photo: City of Edmonton

You can view the CBC story here

Complex-style, government housing is expensive. There are 5 locations proposed across Edmonton which included 150 new affordable housing units to be built.

Original Budget: $35 million
Current Budget: $58.7 million
Cost Per Unit: $391,333

$391,333 per unit of affordable housing?!?  This is not sustainable financially.

Not everyone can be immediately housed.  Those who are facing (1) Mental Illness or (2) Addictions will not succeed if placed into an affordable housing unit.  Their underlying health concerns need to be addressed into provincial programs as mentioned above.  Once addressed, they become better candidates, our success rates go up, and our treatment costs go down.

Those who are challenged by the root cause of (3) Affordability are excellent candidates for affordable housing or “home-ready candidates” and should be housed rapidly.  There needs to be urgency, otherwise we risk losing this client and sending them down a pathway of mental illness and/or substances abuse; this will only grow our homeless problem.

We need to get away from the idea that government needs to build affordable housing and use inventory that is readily available.

We also cannot centralize the homeless population.  Putting dozens or hundreds of homeless people together in complex-style housing, creates additional environmental conditions which lowers success rates.  We need to get away from the idea that government needs to build affordable housing and use inventory that is readily available.

Existing landlords can be incentivized through a credit voucher against their property taxes, to offer housing units (apartments, condos, etc).  Landlords will be more confident in a program that focuses on housing candidates most likely to succeed with access to this program.

The Solution

Here is the summary of the full policy:

Part 1: Treatment

  • The City of Edmonton must be responsible partners with the province to address the root causes of homeless
  • The City of Edmonton must assist those dealing with (1) Mental Illness and (2) Addictions into provincial treatment programs
  • The City of Edmonton must identify “home-ready candidates” who do not require treatment and have a good chance of program success

Part 2: Housable Clients

  • The City of Edmonton will create a pilot project voucher program, creating 200 available units of housing
  • This voucher will follow “home-ready candidates” to the housing of their choice
  • The monetary value of the voucher will be 100% of the unit’s market rate to a maximum of $1,200 per month, for a maximum of 6 months
  • After 6 months, the voucher value will reduce by 16.7% increments per month and the tenant will start making payments
  • By the 12th month, the voucher will expire and the tenant will be responsible for full payments
  • The landlord may use the voucher towards their owed municipal property taxes at 110% voucher value, in-lieu of payment

Program Cost:

$2.38 million