Access to 24-7 supports, better sleeping arrangements and accommodations for pets are new standards the City of Edmonton hopes to introduce at emergency homeless shelters.
But with the province having oversight authority for shelters, questions are swirling around how the new requirements will be funded and enforced by the city. Council’s community and public services committee debated the proposed standards Wednesday before moving the decision to next Monday’s council meeting.
Coun. Scott McKeen, whose ward includes Downtown, said the goal of the new standards is to make shelters more welcoming for residents experiencing homelessness, who are instead choosing to stay in encampments because they feel their needs aren’t being met. Current shelter conditions are considered a contributing factor to the increase of encampments in the city over the past few years. There are currently 644 overnight shelter beds in the city’s system, across seven sites.
“What we’ve done is draw a clear picture of how vulnerable people in Edmonton should be treated at a shelter. The problem is, we have very limited authority to go to the shelters and say, ‘You must do this,’ ” McKeen told Postmedia Wednesday afternoon. “We can do better and in doing better we can save a lot of money and help our small businesses, and help our neighbourhoods feel a little safer.”
One of the proposed changes that McKeen said could have the biggest impact is the move to 24-7 services without residents being evicted from a shelter early in the morning, which is a current practice. He said this could also reduce social disorder in surrounding communities as people will continue to be cared for throughout the day without being forced outside.
“It would reduce a lot of the community impacts with people who get evicted at seven in the morning and there’s nothing to do, no place to go,” McKeen said. “So with 24-7, there’s opportunities to have a nap, opportunities for programming and opportunities to meet with a counsellor for addiction. It’s just a model that offers way more opportunity for folks to not have to dysfunctionally go out into the world trying to get their needs met.”
In order for the standards to take full effect, deputy city manager Rob Smyth said the city is still working on a plan to regulate the new rules. Business licensing or permitting options exist, but many of the standards would be excluded as necessary operating requirements and also fall outside the city’s mandate. If the standards are approved by council, Smyth said the focus will be on encouraging the shelter providers to follow the standards, and on advocating to the province to adopt the standards on a larger scale with appropriate funding.
Some of the other proposed measures include providing beds instead of mats on the floor, storage lockers for personal belongings, and enhanced hygiene services as well as laundry access. There would also be four specific program areas focusing on housing support, mental health and addictions support and the needs of Indigenous people and LGBTQS+ and youth.
There are currently more than 2,500 people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton.