Earlier this month, City Council approved the conversion of Coliseum Inn into permanent supportive housing. This project will deliver 98 new supportive housing units for Edmontonians who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing homelessness.
During my campaign, I spoke at length about my support for permanent supportive housing, and I am grateful that message resonated with so many people. The vast majority of Edmontonians want to see action on houselessness and a proactive, preventive, compassionate approach to support vulnerable community members. The conversion of the Coliseum Inn does exactly that.
What is Permanent Supportive Housing?
Affordable housing exists on a continuum from emergency shelters to bridge housing/transitional housing to permanent supportive housing, all the way to market-rate housing.
Permanent supportive housing is very different from a shelter, drop-in, halfway housing, or other forms of temporary accommodations. It is a long-term, permanent form of housing where residents sign leases and pay subsidized rent while having access to 24/7 wrap around supports for health, wellness, and life skills on site. This ensures residents who have experienced homelessness or are at risk of experiencing homelessness have the support they need to succeed.
The programs and supports that are available to residents vary, but may include:
24/7 crisis services
Independent living skills
Mental health services
Medical services (ex. home care services, continuing care, disability services)
Cultural, ceremonial and spiritual practices
Psycho-social, recreation or support group activities
Community-based education, volunteerism and vocational planning
Supportive housing is a proven model for residents and saves taxpayers millions in policing, justice and health service costs associated with homelessness.
By providing permanent housing, we are also preventing encampments and taking the pressure off the emergency shelter system.
Right now, the City estimates that there are more than 2800 Edmontonians currently experiencing chronic homelessness. That’s double the amount prior to the end of 2019.
Edmonton had made significant progress toward ending homelessness over the past decade, but the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn has increased the number of people falling into homelessness and widened gaps in services required to support them.
The City of Edmonton has a goal of developing 900 supportive housing units, in all areas of the city, by 2024. The conversion of the Coliseum Inn alone will add 98 new units, 58 of which will be meeting the needs of indigenous community members, who comprise approximately 60 percent of those experiencing houselessness, despite being only 5 percent of the total population.
Beyond Coliseum Inn, five new permanent supportive housing projects are nearing completion across the city, which will create 210 additional homes. These projects are located in Westmount (O-day'min), Wellington (Anirniq), Inglewood (Anirniq), King Edward Park (Ward Métis), and Terrace Heights (Ward Métis).
Solving houselessness will take an intergovernmental effort, and I am proud of our administration, homeward trust, and our federal partners for their commitment to immediate action.
The City is contributing $7.3 million to the Coliseum Inn conversion and is receiving $10.9 million in support from the federal government. The federal support we are receiving is through the Rapid Housing Initiative which supports the rehabilitation of existing buildings to affordable housing. It aims to commit all funds as quickly as possible to ensure housing is available within 12 months of agreements. Rising homelessness is a national problem, and I am grateful that these supports have been made available to help address this crisis.
Operational funding to support the long-term success of these units will be needed from the provincial government and all eyes will be on the provincial budget which drops February 24. The City of Edmonton is taking action, and it is my hope that when the provincial government releases its budget, there will be funds available to support our province’s most vulnerable. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it is the economic thing to do as well.
Community Safety and Wellbeing
I have heard concerns from community members about community safety, and social disorder associated with homelessness. Social disorder is a often a symptom of a lack of appropriate housing and support. Supportive housing is part of the solution and has proven to reduce residents’ interactions with police.
To help ensure a positive relationship with the community, the Coliseum Inn will have a Good Neighbour Plan, a tool for developing and maintaining trust and transparency between the owner/operator and the community. A Good Neighbour Plan outlines the shared commitments of the service provider and community and identifies who the community can contact with concerns. It will include an issue resolution process through which the community and supportive housing site can work together to resolve any concerns.
Now that City Council has given the green light to this project, the process of converting the hotel suites to self-contained dwelling units with kitchenettes can begin. The hotel’s existing kitchen will be maintained as a food service facility for residents with the potential to run a social enterprise out of the space in the future. The building will also have spaces for residents to enjoy shared meals, and partake in ceremonies and social gatherings.
Community members will also be invited to provide input on a Good Neighbour Plan. Stay tuned for more public information and engagement. The project is set to open at the end of 2022 and I look forward to welcoming 98 new community members to Ward Métis.