Mayor sets 10-week due date for homeless strategy
EDMONTON -- Edmonton city council is counting the days until winter arrives and the frozen grounds of a homeless camp in Rossdale are covered in snow.
Camp Pekiwewin, established shortly after the EXPO Centre was closed as a temporary shelter at the beginning of August, remains the home base of about 200 people.
There, they have access to food, bathrooms and other necessities.
“There’s a lot of service delivery that is being provided that just satisfies the bare minimum of expectation of what it would be like to live somewhere,” camp media liaison Shima Robinson told CTV News Edmonton.
Robinson read the following list of asks made to the City of Edmonton,and the provincial and federal governments:
- End tent slashing, pepper spraying, destruction and theft of people's property and only dwellings
- Formal harm reduction, focused review of racist bylaws that perpetually erode the security, safety, and dignity of people with no fixed address and communities with lived experiences of homelessness
- Municipal commitment to creating more transitional support services with a harm reduction lens for community members who have been recently institutionalized by the criminal justice system or healthcare and child welfare systems
- An accessible emergency response fund for front line workers and communities with lived experiences of homelessness
- Free transit
- In honour of Indigenous title and treaty, Pekiwewin grounds to remain a reclaimed accessible active ceremonial site and gathering place through infrastructure informed by grass root indigenous communities
Officials promised to continue the emergency services for Edmonton’s homeless after the EXPO shelter – propped up at the onset of the pandemic in Alberta – closed.
Since April, the Coliseum Inn has also hosted a program with space for about 100 people to transition them into more permanent housing.
But it’s not enough and the clock is ticking, councillors said Thursday at an emergency advisory committee.
“Mr. Mayor, I’m at my wit’s end,” Ward 6 Coun. Scott McKeen said. “I’m really frustrated and angry.”
According to Mayor Don Iveson, the vision and motivation to create more accessible housing exists at the municipal level – but the city has no jurisdictional power.
“We are not interesting in maintaining the camp as is,” Iveson commented in a news conference after the meeting.
“We have long articulated a long-term solution for these camp residents. We want to provide those living in the camp with supportive housing, and we want to see that happen in the short term. We want a 10-week plan to end homeless.”
The short and medium term options include leasing underused hotel space or work camp trailers, which Edmonton has done before.
“Before it gets too cold, we want to provide them with safe shelter options. This is what the folks in the camp deserve and this is what the greater community deserves. This is the just and human response to this situation,” Iveson added.
The press secretary for Rajan Sawhney, minister of community and social services, told CTV News Edmonton the department remains committed to helping homeless Albertans, and pointed to $28.7 million recently allocated to Edmonton’s Homeward Trust.
“Provincially, between March 1st and July 12th more than 573 people have moved out of the shelter system into appropriate housing,” Diane Carter said.
“We will continue to work closely with all of our partner, including community organizations and municipalities, to find appropriate housing solutions for Albertans who need it most.”
According to Iveson, who also serves as chair of the national Big City Mayors’ Caucus, said local governments across Canada are asking more of their provincial and federal leaders.
As of yet, he has not heard how $48 million from Ottawa, dedicated to homeless supports, will be deployed in Alberta.
- READ MORE: Province to spend another $48M on homeless supports through pandemic
- READ MORE: City sets rules, supports for Pekiwewin camp in Edmonton river valley
“We showed at the beginning of this pandemic we can act quickly and decisively to do the right thing from a public health point of view,” he told media.
“I just think there’s more urgency than ever because of the economic challenges we’re all facing combined with the pandemic and the opportunity to move swiftly and acquire some assets.”
Camp Pekiwewin’s Robinson responded: “Ten weeks. The mayor said it. Let’s do it.”
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Jeremy Thompson