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Special City Council meeting on housing and homelessness emergency, January 15 -ECOHH News Release



Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness

200, 12120-106 Avenue Edmonton Alberta T5N 0Z2

2024 January 14

Re: Special City Council meeting on housing and homelessness emergency, January 15

The Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness (ECOHH) supports City Council approving a motion to declare an emergency regarding the current housing situation in the city.


It is tragic that it has taken the violence of the series of destructions of informal settlements on Edmonton streets and parkland over the past three weeks to reach this point, but determined action now offers an opportunity for a stronger plan to make progress on Edmonton’s grave housing problems.


ECOHH does not agree the circumstances today are a crisis. A crisis is a sudden and unexpected situation, difficult to anticipate and prepare for. But there is ample evidence we do not have an unexpected crisis:

- the shelf of reports about housing and homelessness over the past three decades,

- tens of millions of dollars spent on bandage programs and services that ignored the actual problem, -

- the City’s own research identifying 40 000 households in core housing need,

- the record of having 2000 or more people homeless every day since the century began, and

- ECOHH’s annual memorial services for hundreds of people who have died of homelessness,

attended by members of City Council.


An emergency, Yes! But not a surprise.


ECOHH appreciates what the City has done to be helpful and the resources invested in creative ways to increase housing supply. ECOHH deplores the failure of the provincial and federal governments to fund the construction and maintenance of social and special needs housing, the income support funding needed for people with little or no money, and the human and health support services related to issues like mental health, for the past 30 years. This is the direct cause of the catastrophe of homelessness in Edmonton and Canada today.


The City’s approach in relation to people who are homeless is of great concern to ECOHH. Whether Council decides to declare an emergency in relation to the whole issue of housing or not, there must be an immediate change in this area of activity.


Much of the approach has been left with bodies who think in terms of criminality, a bad starting point. And a clear presentation of the realities has been hidden by reports full of technical terms and euphemisms. The City has approached issues related to homelessness as a technical problem, rather than a human one. The categories used, tidily placing each person in a box labelled unsheltered, provisionally sheltered, or temporarily sheltered (staying in a shelter facility), are unrealistic. The reality is that thousands of people are unable to afford or cope with the housing that is available. They move in and out of a range of precarious variations of survival, without having a safe, affordable, appropriate

place where they can make a home.


In recent days-- listening to the City weave a fabric of legal arguments in court to justify the continued displacement of people who are camping, wintessing the heartless destruction of people’s shelters in the midst of bitterly cold weather, and following the ridiculous nit-picking over how many “shelter spaces” there are (ignoring the issues of suitability of those spaces)-- we have been disappointing and our trust damaged regarding whether the City wants to honour the human right to housing for all.


Since 2007 ECOHH has, on many occasions, met with elected leaders and made written and oral presentations to Council urging the option of creating secure, sanitary campsite facilities for those people who choose, usually for valid reasons, to live in this particular way. This was a common way of living in Edmonton a century ago. Many of us have camped at well designed and managed facilities, and considered it a vacation. There are organizations and municipal governments all over North America who are providing a range of such options today.


The approach of this city has cost millions of dollars without positive results. There are as many people camping now as two years ago, but many of them have been traumatized and deprived of personal possessions, sometimes repeatedly. Fencing off central locations that have been used for camping has added to the dangers, driving people to smaller locations more carefully hidden but isolated from services they need.


It is good to see the first small actions to develop more options in Edmonton, using trailers or small simple buildings. More is needed quickly, could be done at modest cost, and offer a more dignified

way to live.


In addition to developing locations with better camping options than the do-it-yourself shelters in whatever locations are available for campers that happens now, action is needed to

- improve quality of life in shelter facilities through clear and enforced standards,

- reduce the use of a few large factory shelters and develop smaller facilities, and

- expand the range and availability of daytime shelters for those living in situations such as vehicles, garages, couch-surfing, and poor-quality SROs. These people may not show up on the streets, as do those camping, but they lack proper places to make homes and to carry out some of the basic activities of life such as personal sanitation, and preparing good meals.


To conclude:

1. Declaring an emergency creates a valuable opportunity to focus on the issue, be more deliberate in understanding and developing effective action, and engage more people and resources;

2. The most urgent action is a fresh and person-centred approach to dealing with the realities of homelessness, that begins with deep and substantial involvement of the people living in this circumstance to develop actions focused on health and safety until housing is available;

3. It is essential to not back down from the position that current problems reflect primarily the way the federal and provincial governments have abandoned a commitment to housing as a social good and a human right, by long years of minimal funding and poor policies and to be a forceful irritating voice demanding they do better;

4. ECOHH, and many people in the city who have become more aware of these issues over the past month as they have witnessed the treatment of already-struggling people, are monitoring you and if the declaration of an emergency becomes only an exercise in public relations and talk, we will be letting you know.


Sincerely,

Nadine Chalifoux

Chair, ECOHH


About ECOHH

The Edmonton Coalition Housing and Homelessness (ECOHH) was created in 1986. Membership consists of social profit organizations and businesses, as well as individuals. Its mandate includes education and advocacy on homelessness and the human right to housing. ECOHH provided leadership in the formation of the Edmonton Housing Trust Fund in 1999, now operating as Homeward Trust. 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:

- Housing is a human right

- Decent affordable housing is essential for all people.

- Good homes for all create strong healthy communities.

- Home is more than four walls and a roof-- it's housing, 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.

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I agree wholeheartedly with the content of the blog. We really need a people centric approach starting now. Organizing a more deliberate and consistent approach with regular visits by familiar out-reach people could help a lot with completing the tasks necessary (ID replacement, paper-work) that will enable the encamped person to get a home sooner, not later. It is my understanding that current outreach to camps (about 45 FTE across multiple agencies) is NOT coordinated across the agencies. We need to correct that missing coordination piece now. Thsnk you. John Lilley

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