We need day shelters in Edmonton - urgently.
I wrote last week that we need to support our most vulnerable citizens with effective, transitional day shelters that welcome those struggling with mental health and addictions.
We already have a number of shelters in Edmonton, primarily concentrated in Chinatown, Boyle Street, Central McDougall and McCauley. And yet, we see homeless encampments in front of many of these shelters.
Why would so many people rather camp on the sidewalk in front of the shelters, instead of going inside?
What’s happening in those shelters that makes an encampment the better, safer choice for so many?
Last October, the Province announced $187 million in new funding towards fighting homelessness and addiction issues in Calgary and Edmonton. Some of the money was for expanding the number of winter shelter spaces (albeit not on a permanent basis). That plan also called for all provincially funded shelters to operate 24 hours per day to help address a long-standing need for daytime shelter space in Edmonton.
So again, why do we still see so many encampments right in front of these provincially funded shelters?
The October announcement also introduced a service hub model that the Province said will “connect clients directly with supports and services such as recovery, housing and emergency financial support.”
I recently had the opportunity to tour Boyle Street’s downtown facility. In this one place, you can find assistance getting your various forms of identification (which you need before you can access any other service, from housing to the food bank). You can open a bank account and get a job.
That sounds a bit like a service hub model. Is this model something the Province can build upon?
There has been talk recently of a supervised consumption site in Strathcona. This is a controversial issue and the decision to allow supervised consumption is a provincial one. The focus of this debate has been supervised consumption, but the other services being offered could make this a health hub.
Other provincial announcements in October included $63 million to reduce homelessness, $65 million towards “recovery communities” and $28 million was set aside for new hybrid health and police hubs.
The province also formed the Edmonton Public Safety and Community Response Task Force in December (of which I am a member) to implement a series of related initiatives. The most recent announcement of $17M in support of doubling the number of HELP teams (Human-centred Engagement and Liaison Partnership teams), among other initiatives, will help bring support services to those who need them, where they need them, when they need them. This will help a lot.
But it's not enough, by a long shot. We have urgent needs. We need action, and we need it now.
At the same time, I hear those communities at the north edge of downtown when they say that there is no clear social service ecosystem roadmap.
No one seems to know which organization supplies what services to which clients. No one seems to know where the gaps and overlaps are in this system.
And there is no clear approach to coordinate the actions of all of these organizations. There appears to be little data and information sharing among service providers. This is a big problem.
And why is it taking so long to establish an Indigenous led shelter?
More thoughts on these important questions in my next blog.
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