In my previous blog, I mentioned the Province’s financial support of affordable housing in Budget 2023. Those actions will help our affordable housing challenges. In Edmonton however, “housing” has become a euphemistic term for everything that addresses our homeless, drug addiction and mental health crisis.
There is a lot of pain being felt on Edmonton’s streets these days, and a lot of different reasons and circumstances behind this pain. Just as there are lots of pathways to a life of struggle on the streets, there needs to be several pathways away from that life.
And there has been a lot of debate about just what those pathways look like, who is responsible for creating and funding them, is one better than the rest, etc.
Since being appointed as a member of The Edmonton Public Safety and Community Response Task Force, I have spoken with many individuals and groups that speak to a suite of solutions to support the most vulnerable of our residents, while at the same time restoring a sense of security and safety in our public spaces.
At the risk of trivialising these matters, the solution set consists of a continuum of care:
- Harm reduction strategies that prevent those consuming from overdosing;
- Shelter spaces to protect vulnerable persons from the elements;
- Recovery spaces for those addicted;
- Acute mental health treatment spaces;
- Supportive housing facilities that provide ongoing services that help people manage their individual challenges;
- From a safety perspective: a greater presence of police and peace officers to act as a visible deterrent to disorderly behaviour.
The Current Situation
Edmonton has seen some actions implemented:
- In February 2023, the Task Force announced a 15 week pilot project to add 12 sheriffs to work with EPS Officers and other service agencies to patrol inner city neighbourhoods;
- In Budget 2023, the Province has announced their intention to build several drug recovery and treatment centres, each with 75 recovery spaces;
- $42M of provincial funding for permanent supportive housing, announced last fall, remains in place.
- There is a proposal in the works from Boyle Street Community Services (BSCS), to establish a Supervised Consumption Site in Ritchie. Province approval is still required.
All of these actions are helpful. But they represent a disjointed and uncoordinated approach to establishing that firm, fair and compassionate continuum of care.
What is the Solution?
What does a continuum of care look like? Those treatment centres and acute mental health spaces won’t be built overnight. Until they are built, those persons in supervised consumption sites have nowhere to move to.
As one example, Calgary has three times the number of shelter spaces and seven shelter operators while Edmonton has two. Edmonton has repeatedly asked for more shelter funding.
But if more shelter funding was provided tomorrow; who would operate them? Existing building or new? Which neighbourhood? Can an adequate number of employees be hired? How much money is required, and for how long? And with no treatment space, how do people move from the shelters towards recovery?
Rather than asking for money, Edmonton needs to establish a roster of partner operators that are “shovel ready” to build affordable housing, supportive housing and shelter spaces.
In addition to pledges for future construction, the Province needs to establish recovery and treatment places on a temporary basis today until those facilities are built.
We need to examine and revise Provincial and Federal policies that release individuals from the health care and judicial systems into homelessness in downtown Edmonton.
We need our own Edmonton Police Service to step up and provide many more beat cops on downtown streets to provide that visual deterrent to disorderly behaviour.
But more than anything, we need all the partners and all levels of government to actively contribute to solutions.
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