Gabrielle Battiste, O-day'min City Council Candidate, visits Edmonton's Camp Pekiwewin site to review the housing crisis, community safety, what happens next when the Shaw Centre shelter closes and what we need to do moving forward for prevention.
At one-point last summer, more than 300 houseless people, mostly Indigenous, made their homes here in Camp Pekiwewin, looking to find safety & security and hoping governments would notice and make substantive changes. Regular food and clothing donations from Edmontonians, along with social service supports from agencies, provided relief for many.
However, there was also a large rise in nearby community property crime, attempted home invasions, regular verbal threats and even violence, resulting in an atmosphere of fear and hostility between the housed community and the houseless – even further dividing those that need to work together.
Those who temporarily found shelter at Camp Pekiwewin are now living in mass indoor shelters, the closest of which is the Shaw Centre downtown – and the Shaw Centre is scheduled to close its doors to the houseless at the end of April. WHAT HAPPENS THEN?? RIGHT NOW, THERE IS NO PLAN.
Currently, we have around 2000 people without any form of housing in a City of approximately One Million people and growing. Edmonton’s highest numbers of houseless individuals in 2008 at over 3000 and that number has been slowing reducing year over year. Homeless counts and by name lists continue to help in identifying the actual individuals who need support and following up to ensure they receive that support and eventual housing. Even though less than 10 % of our city population identifies as Indigenous, they make up almost 50% of those living on the streets.
In 2009, City Council put in place a strategy to prevent and end homelessness. In 2016, 7 years later Council re-did that plan to make another 10-year plan to prevent and end homelessness. This means that some current Councillors have had more than 10 years to put together the supports and the finances, to work with various different Provincial and Federal governments (Liberal, NDP & UCP), to prevent and end homelessness – and they have failed. Council cannot now blame the Province or the Pandemic or the Economy for their failure to appropriately ensure community safety and housing for all. This is not a new problem.
This past December, more than 10 years after the first 10-year plan, Council has approved their long-term, high-level City Plan that talks, in part, about how we will house an expected Two Million people within our current boundaries (you may recall that Edmonton annexed a large portion of land south of us not that long ago). In this Plan, the City again makes a number of big promises about housing, including that the Plan will ensure:
- Nobody is in core housing need; and that
- There is no chronic or episodic homelessness in Edmonton
It will be up to those of us elected this year – supported by you – to actually make this City Plan work – to do what the past Councils could not - to put the right supports in the right places, with the right partnerships, to effectively eliminate chronic houselessness in our growing City – to make our Communities Safe for families and for all citizens.
In my Ward – O-day’min, the Heart of the City where I live, work & play – I see people sleeping on the ground every night – I see the failure of large shelter facilities like the Shaw Centre – that aren’t safe and don’t provide the strategies or resources necessary to prevent the crisis facing those with addictions and mental health disorders – without the prevention that should have happened over the last 10 years to give people the supports, skills and housing needed to actually prevent what will be a continuing crisis.
Nearly 50,000 Edmonton households spend more than they can afford on rent
2000 Edmontonians are experiencing homelessness, including more than 200 children
On any given night, 500 Edmontonians sleep outside
This entire cycle must end. Every single individual in Edmonton deserves better.
But how do we do that?
The recent announcement of federal funding for Edmonton to continue establishing 5 new supportive housing sites throughout Edmonton, that will be hopefully be opening throughout 2022, is very good news. But that doesn’t even start to cover the operation of those housing units. And the City-led supportive housing projects will only have 210 units on City lands for people who agree to receive social supports and who want to be housed. The new City goal is now to build 900 supportive housing units by 2024. That’s not enough and it’s not fast enough. And it won’t prevent the houseless population from remaining static or growing. As we plan to grow our population, we MUST focus on PREVENTION.
We need the Province, City, Private Industry Developers, Social Supportive and Prevention-Oriented NFPs and Community Leagues at the table to ensure that we don’t waste another 10 years playing catch up and reacting to economic & social pressures. We need a robust focus on Prevention and Safety so that we stop issues where they start – not just put Band-Aids on them after they happen.
This Council needs people who can work with all stakeholders – people with strong collaboration skills and ideas to quickly and effectively implement a Prevention & Housing Strategy. It is critical that we work with organizations that make practical skills and social supports paramount starting in elementary school – all through high school and into university. Our Next Generation of Edmontonians – our students attending post-secondary and trade schools here in Edmonton are the future of Edmonton. We need their input and voices at the table. We need them to stay in Edmonton and help rebuild Edmonton.
I am committed to bringing together the right people with the right solutions and the right focus and, through my actions, I intend to make Edmonton a vibrant and safe city for everyone.