Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness
200, 12120-106 Avenue Edmonton Alberta T5N 0Z2
2022 October 14
HOMELESSNESS AND ENCAMPMENT RESPONSE STRATEGY
7.1 Community and Public Services Committee
Over the past few years, Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness (ECOHH) has provided input to City Council several times on the issue of people who are living in informal camping situations in the city, most recently less than six months ago.
Once more we appreciate the chance to share our view. We have described in the past our concerns with what is currently happening and our perspective that we could do better. As autumn sets in and life becomes more difficult for people living in these perilous conditions, we wish today to make two major points:
1. The current more-of-the-same approach to the situation would be laughable for its absurdity, if it did not involve the health and safety of human beings, many of them already in vulnerable circumstances, and
2. It is an unnecessary situation that has become entrenched because of the dominant voice of legal and administrative perspectives that lack compassion for the people involved and conscience for the need for everyone to live in dignity and security.
We realize that these are strong words and that some of you may be reacting defensively to them. But we urge you to be open to look at the reality and not only at the words in the reports before you.
In many cultures, wisdom keepers urge us to put ourselves in the place of others before making decisions. If you have not already done so, we urge you to be present the next time an area of campers is removed, to watch and listen as the whole process unfolds.
To begin with, the people involved are often already in stress from the many health and safety risks they experience on a daily basis and from having been displaced many times before. As with all of us, what they want is to create a place they can call home, a secure place where they, those they love, and those to whom they want to offer hospitality, can relax and be themselves. Without adequate housing, this is very challenging.
And then police and City personnel arrive with vehicles and equipment and tell them they have a few minutes to save what they can and move themselves away. As they try to do this, around them other shelters are being taken apart and everything thrown into trucks to be hauled away. Look at that woman, wrapped in blankets sitting under a shelter of pallets and tarps having it removed around her. Or those two men loading everything they can onto a grocery cart and trying to push it through the snow away from the area....
This year alone millions of dollars have been spent destroying these shelters and moving the people-- and there is absolutely no evidence of any improvement. There are as many or more people living in such shelter as there were when the year began. Good logic model plans require an outcome to be described that shows what will change for the better because of a plan. There has been a lot of activity, a lot of money spent, but no improvement. Within an hour of one of these displacements of people and destruction of shelter, people are setting up new shelter a few blocks away. Talk to the staff who work at this task-- they know scores of the people by name and re-encounter them week after week and do the same thing to their shelters, week after week.
We describe these people as homeless because it is impossible to satisfy the definition of home when you are living in the most precarious locations with the poorest of physical shelter. They are not homeless because they do not want homes or are not seeking to the best of their ability to create homes. They are homeless because without adequate housing it is nearly impossible to create a home. And a home is the place where everything else about building a healthy successful life begins. The stubborn determination of the City to keep doing what it is doing with encampments not only fails to improve anything, it makes life even worse for the people involved, it increases the danger they are in and the threats to their health and stability.
The engagement of people to share realities about their lives that has taken place over the past few months is useless if it is then packaged by professional report writers in language that almost entirely disguises the painful and humiliating reality of life for people living in informal shelter, as has happened with the information provided to you. Bland and neutral language will not change lived reality. The report before you does offer some carefully selected quotes that can be read beyond the surface to begin to give some insight into how awful things really are, but the reality you would see if you spent time with those living in these situations is far more difficult than the report lets on.
This is made worse by the report’s insistence that Canadian law does not stipulate that housing is a human right, as if this is a justification to not treat it as such, rather than a shameful failure of Canadian law. Whether or not in a technical legal decision a court might declare there is a human right to housing or not, anyone who currently lives in decent secure housing who cannot see all the ways in which that supports everything else about them being able to have a reasonable quality of life is just not looking. And to permit others to be denied these benefits because Canadian law does not require it cannot be excused. Could any of you be doing the positive productive things you are if you had to live in a shelter on Edmonton streets or parkland that consisted of tarps, lumber scraps, blankets, and maybe a tent?
More processes and more reports while people suffer and die is heartbreaking. For another six months or more to go by before there is even testing of a prototype to deal with this is unacceptable. Time after time in Canada we can respond in hours or days to a sudden catastrophe, yet this chronic disaster never seems to matter enough to receive more than token attention. It is well past time for that to change.
If members of Council would like to have any of the previous submissions ECOHH has made on this topic or to meet with us further about it, we would be happy to respond. Thank you.
The Edmonton Coalition Housing and Homelessness (ECOHH) was created in 1986. Membership consists of both social profit organizations and businesses, as well as individuals. Its mandate includes education and advocacy on homelessness and affordable housing. ECOHH provided leadership in the formation of the Edmonton Housing Trust Fund in 1999. This fund now operates as Homeward Trust and is part of a long-term initiative to provide quality affordable housing in Edmonton by investment in projects. ECOHH presented an annual awareness event, Homefest, for ten years, and led the development of the public art sculpture honouring the importance of housing, located in Homeless Memorial Plaza, north of City Hall on 103A Avenue. ECOHH has presented an annual memorial service for people who have died because of housing challenges in their lives, for the past 14 years.
ECOHH is a broad based voice to promote change in public policy, increase community knowledge, and share information on all aspects of housing security, especially homelessness and affordable housing.
ECOHH’s key messages are:
- Decent affordable housing is essential for all people.
- Good homes for all create strong healthy communities.
- Housing is more than four walls and a roof-- it's homes, support, and community.
- Lack of decent affordable housing has negative consequences for everyone.
- In Alberta we have the resources, knowledge, and skills to make sure everyone has a decent place to call home in a strong healthy community.