Province to spend another $48M on homeless supports through pandemic
EDMONTON -- Homeless shelters in Alberta will receive another $48 million from the government to offset the impact of the pandemic.
How the dollars will be dispersed is yet to be decided but they will ensure isolation spaces throughout the province remain open until the spring, said Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney during a Wednesday announcement.
“This pandemic will continue to affect those experiencing homelessness for a long time to come,” said Stephen Wile, Mustard Seed CEO, in thanking the government for its commitment.
“We need to work together to make sure they are protected, have access to safe emergency shelter and isolation spaces.”
The United Conservative government allocated $25 million in March at the beginning of the pandemic to agencies helping vulnerable Albertans.
According to Sawhney, the dollars created 14 additional shelters throughout the province and eight isolation centres where people could stay while waiting for COVID-19 test results.
“This funding was critical in supporting extra staffing at our main building and two new temporary shelters that we opened up,” said Hope Mission’s executive director Bruce Reith.
“We are grateful for all the support that we have received from the government to help us care for people in need, and I’m pleased that the government is stepping up to provide additional funding today. So even with all the uncertainty we’re living through, our guests can count on healthy daily meals and safe 24/7 shelter.”
The government promised to maintain supports for homeless Albertans after Edmonton’s EXPO Centre transitioned back to a convention space at the beginning of the month.
Since mid-March, the province covered roughly $1.5 million in monthly operating costs to run the space as a temporary shelter.
Organizers are now looking for a new site to set up permanently.
For the last week and a half, Camp Pekiwewin has been taking shape in the field beside RE/MAX field as the impromptu replacement for the closed EXPO Centre shelter.
"They're living in tents because they're trying to isolate right now, they're trying to shelter in place," said Shima Robinson, with Black Lives Matter YEG.
"We are the largest capacity shelter operation in the city."
One man living at the camp in Rossdale says it's more social and safer than shelters, and works well in the summer.
While community experts agree housing is the long term goal, people involved with Camp Pekiwewin say winter weather is the more urgent problem.
"We saw them turn the city upside down responding to COVID, this is an extension of the COVID emergency, and they should be turning the city upside down, bending over backwards to help these people," said Robinson.
Homeward Trust has said any potential facility would need to be larger than 10,000 to 20,000 square feet.
“The EXPO Centre and the Telus Convention Centre [in Calgary] were always meant to be temporary sites. We needed to stand them up quickly in the early days of the pandemic,” Sawhney said, adding she was very proud of the work that went into them.
“We will be opening up additional overflow surge capacity in Edmonton because we know that capacity has been reduced due to social distancing requirements, and right now we are working with the City of Edmonton with our community partners to secure that space.”
Officials say no location has been finalized.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson.