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Encampments & Our Unhoused Neighbours

I have appreciated the outpouring of support for our unhoused neighbours over the past few weeks. This blog provides an update on the current situation, my perspective on the work ahead, and my intentions for our upcoming Council meeting.

I have always advocated for a caring and compassionate approach that centers the lived experiences of unhoused community members, and I share many of the concerns that have been raised by constituents over the last few weeks.

We know that encampments are a symptom of systemic failures across multiple orders of government. Chronic underinvestment in housing, healthcare, and social supports has left a growing number of community members without a safe, stable and welcoming place to live.

There continues to be an urgent need to address the ongoing housing, mental health and opioid crisis and I am committed to continuing to advocate for action at all levels of government, alongside my Council colleagues.

This is one of the many reasons I voted in favour of declaring a housing and homelessness emergency in Edmonton on January 16, 2024. By naming the crisis it makes clear the scale and urgency of action required across all levels of government. My support for this emergency declaration comes with a commitment to tangible actions that can be advanced immediately, alongside long-term, systemic solutions that address root causes. It is vital that our approach is housing and human centric and that all stakeholders are at the table, including those most affected.

I have made it clear that 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 the motion Council passed with the emergency declaration, which asks city administration to return to Council with a list of immediate actions by January 30, 2024.

We know that the City is not equipped to address this emergency 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.

Regarding our approach to encampments, I felt that Council needed to provide immediate direction to city administration to review and amend a number of items. This is why on January 17, 2024 I made it clear that I intended to bring the following motion forward:

That administration provide a report to council outlining updates to the City of Edmonton’s Encampment Response to include:

  1. An update to the Encampment Response Matrix with feedback from social sector agencies, including updates to the high risk response.

  2. Options to include the social sector in all Encampment Assessment, where they have the capacity to do so, and in the governance and planning of any large scale encampment removals.

  3. Options to improve transparency and communication on the reasons an encampment has been assessed as high risk to social agencies and encampment residents.

  4. A reassessment of the cold weather threshold to clear encampments.

Unfortunately, a referral motion was tabled, meaning I was not permitted to make the above motion. I voted against referral, as did a number of my Council colleagues, however we lost the vote. That means that this discussion has been delayed to a later Council meeting. I was disappointed with this outcome as I feel there is urgency to this conversation. I intend to raise it again at the next opportunity.

I also have outstanding questions for the Edmonton Police Commission and city administration about our approach and risk assessment.

The unfortunate reality is that encampments can pose a variety of health and safety risks, including fires, lack of sanitation, and vulnerability to exploitation. At the same time, decampment and displacement can also pose risks, including further marginalizing already vulnerable people. The availability, suitability, and safety of shelter spaces must be considered, as displacing people who have nowhere to go simply results in further isolation, which is why connections to appropriate shelter spaces and supports must be prioritized.

I remain concerned about the quality of shelter spaces available. We know that some people do not access shelter spaces because of concerns surrounding safety, security and privacy, restrictions on partners and pets, a lack of secure storage space, as well as a gap in culturally appropriate spaces. While the City is unable to force shelter operators to adhere to the City’s Minimum Emergency Shelter Standards, I will continue to advocate that spaces be improved to help overcome some of the barriers that prevent people from accessing them. As such, I am planning on making the following motion:

That administration include options for a Minimum Emergency Shelter Standard Tiering Framework that provides an incremental and consistent approach to achieving higher quality shelter experiences as part of the report City of Edmonton Minimum Emergency Shelter Standards - Review and Lessons Learned CS02269.

Thank you to everyone who has continued to engage in this conversation and for your commitment to building a caring and compassionate city where everyone has a place to call home.



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