This week, Edmonton City Council voted to declare a housing and houselessness emergency. I was supportive of this declaration for a number of reasons, which I outline below.
The motion put forward by the Mayor, and supported by the majority of Council, is as follows:
That Attachment 1 be added to the January 15, 2024, Mayor's Office report MO02326.
That the City of Edmonton declare a housing and houselessness emergency.
That the Mayor, on behalf of City Council, invite the Government of Canada, Government of Alberta and Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations for a meeting to discuss collaborative solutions to the emergency, including those as identified in Attachment 1 of the January 15, 2024, Mayor's Office report M002326.
That Administration establish a task force, led by Mayor, City Manager and an appointed member of Council, consisting of community leaders with a mandate to mobilize all sectors, expedite red tape reduction related to housing and houselessness, and allocate $3.5 million from the Community Safety and Wellbeing Reserve unallocated funding to act as seed money to fund innovative solutions and attract additional sources of funding.
That Administration provide a verbal report with a list of immediate actions that Administration can take, including but not limited to options such as the provision of City-owned land to service providers able to immediately increase the number of Indigenous-led transitional spaces in Edmonton, and existing recommended actions that can be expedited.
I want to begin by recognizing all of the community leaders, advocates, youth, elders, and others who attended the Special Council Meeting where the emergency declaration was made, many of whom have been working directly with unhoused neighbours and serving in this space for years.
Many Edmontonians have been calling for this week’s declaration for a long time, and I want to thank you for your commitment to building an inclusive and compassionate Edmonton for all of us, and for applying the necessary pressure to bring about this week’s declaration.
It is an emergency, and it has been an emergency for years now.
This Council has taken numerous actions to address the housing and homelessness crisis ranging from significant investments into affordable and supportive housing, to investing in hygiene hubs for unhoused community members, a municipal drug poisoning response, 24/7 crisis diversion, and much more. We have also stepped outside of our own jurisdiction to funding supports that fall squarely within the responsibility of other orders of government. We are naming and calling out this emergency for what it is, and helping focus our collective, intergovernmental sights on solving this crisis.
We know that municipalities alone are unable to deliver the degree of action and scale of resourcing required to address this emergency. One of the important reasons for declaring this emergency is that Edmonton is now standing with other Canadian municipalities who have done the same. My hope is that adding Edmonton’s voice to this national conversation will garner the attention it deserves from other orders of government, whose jurisdiction this is, and who quite frankly are in a far better position to meaningfully address this systemic issue than we are.
Over the last two days, there were questions as to whether this conversation is about the acute need we are seeing today in our communities or the long term, systemic issue of houselessness. Treating this as an either or conversation takes away from the inherent interconnection between the two. What we are seeing today are symptoms of a failing housing system.
When I think about the urgency of this emergency, not only has the number of unhoused Edmontonians doubled since the onset of the pandemic, but the rising cost of living, and the vacancy and rental projections from CMHC are extremely strong signals that an even greater number of Edmontonians will be precariously housed and at risk of falling into homelessness in the coming months.
Some stark figures were shared throughout the discussion that underscore the need to take swift action:
Houseless numbers hit a historic high of 3,170. Between 2019 and 2022 the number of people seeking housing services within Edmonton has increased 68%, while the number of people being housed has only increased by 7%.
Edmonton food bank demand is at a record high, more than double the highest of the pandemic peak in 2020
The number of individuals who have been discharged from institutional health and justice facilities has increased 3000% since 2006.
Amputations due to frostbite are at a ten year high.
In 2023, 301 people have died due to being unhoused, an increase from 156 people in 2022.
46,115 households in Edmonton are in core housing need
CMHC forecasts rental vacancy to fall 81% from 7.3% to 1.4%, and the average rental rate to rise 17% between 2022 and Fall 2024.
These statistics demonstrate a rapid acceleration of homelessness in Edmonton.
I am prepared to leverage even more dollars towards housing as we move forward, and I think we need to, which is why I am particularly keen to see the results of Point 5 of the Mayor’s motion, which asks city administration to return to Council with a list of immediate actions by the end of the month. As I stated earlier in this blog, the City is not equipped to address this alone, but following a declaration, I think it is incumbent upon us to take action and do what we can to reduce the pain and suffering that is happening now in our communities, while we work towards longer-term solutions.
I expect to see consideration of solutions that can be rapidly deployed, including but not limited to transitional housing, modular structures, trailers, pallet homes, as well as additional outreach, prototyping, and more.
While not the primary topic of discussion at this week's Special Council Meeting called by the Mayor, I understand that many people are asking City Council to examine our response to encampments, which I agree is necessary. I am fully prepared to consider further changes. At today's meeting I made my intentions clear to ask for amendments to our approach. These include reassessing the cold weather threshold for closing encampments, improving transparency and communication about why an encampment is assessed as high risk, including social sector agencies in these assessments, and incorporating other updates based on feedback from social sector agencies.
Thanks to everyone who has written in and engaged on this issue for years. Your advocacy and commitment to our houseless neighbours is part of the reason we are here this week. Your compassion and care embodies the kind of Edmonton we are trying to build.