News / Edmonton

Election Primer: Homelessness and housing must be tackled together, advocates say

The push for more infill developments in established has received some pushback

Homeward Trust CEO Susan McGee speaks at Edmonton's city hall on March 13, 2017.

File photo / Metro Web Upload

Homeward Trust CEO Susan McGee speaks at Edmonton's city hall on March 13, 2017.

Edmonton is making strides in its plan to end homelessness, but needs to look at the big picture of having a wide range of housing stock if we’re going to be successful, advocates say.

As of one year ago, the Point-In-Time Homeless count showed 1,752 people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton. About 24 per cent were unsheltered, 42 per cent unsheltered while 35 per cent had some sort of accommodation.

Shelters are merely a Band-Aid solution – the city needs permanent supportive housing and more subsidized units to help individuals permanently make the transition from the street into a home.

“In order for us to be successful and for the effort to be sustained, we are missing some really important housing products in our community that provides support on site for individuals with more complex needs,” said Susan McGee, CEO of Homeward Trust, an Edmonton organization focused on ending homelessness. 

Close attention also needs to be paid to those at risk of homeless, which includes about 20,000 Edmonton households living in what is called extreme core housing need. That means they earn less than $20,000 a year and spent at least 50 per cent of their income on rent.

“Still, you’re living in extreme poverty, which puts you in a housing crisis. If you have one emergency, that puts you at severe risk of homelessness,” said Candace Noble, with Boyle Street Community Service's housing division.

As it stands, most of Edmonton’s affordable housing units are in established neighbourhoods including Londonderry, McCauley, Alberta Avenue, Castledowns and downtown. There’s also a cluster in Mill Woods but no further south, Noble said.

Funding for affordable housing largely falls on the shoulders of the provincial and federal government, but it’s the city’s job to maintain those units and plan areas for new projects.

“Municipalities don’t have the resources to build housing, but they have the opportunity to have a vision and create an environment where it can be successful,” McGee said.

The city could do that by updating bylaws to require new buildings to have some affordable housing units, and also by requiring developments to be closer to transit and social services.

“But we’re not doing that. We’re allowing the separation between the rich and the poor to become greater in our city,” Noble said.

Edmonton’s original 2009 plan to end homelessness called for 1,000 new permanent supportive housing units to be built within 10 years, but so far, only about 250 have been built.

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