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At least 265 people evicted from Edmonton homeless camps visit navigation centre

Edmonton police prepare to dismantle an encampment at 95th Street and 101A Avenue on Jan. 9. (Natasha Riebe/CBC News - image credit)
Edmonton police prepare to dismantle an encampment at 95th Street and 101A Avenue on Jan. 9. (Natasha Riebe/CBC News - image credit)

At least 265 people evicted from encampments have visited the province's new navigation centre since it was set up nearly a month ago in downtown Edmonton, administration told city council at a meeting Monday.

The numbers are from the provincial government, which launched the triage centre to help people who lived in homeless camps that were removed by the city.

"There is a lot to be encouraged by," said Anne Stevenson, councillor for Ward O-day'min.

The navigation centre is an important piece of the puzzle that's been missing in the mission to connect people with services, Stevenson said.

"It's a great model and I hope it can continue to be refined and improved even further, but it's a great starting point."

Since the centre was launched on Jan. 17, 131 Individuals were connected to shelters, City Manager Andre Corbould said.

"It appears word is spreading on the on-site supports and the instances of walk-ups from unsheltered persons are increasing," he said.

Crews cleaned 191 sites, Corbould said.

Hope Mission is the main agency supporting the centre, he said, but the Mustard Seed, Enoch, the Salvation Army, Radius Health and Treaty 6 Confederacy are also helping connect people with services.

"Organizations are working together to provide the right support needed for each individual and the coordination effort is really helping," Corbould said.

Corbould said from the centre, some clients were taken to the shelter of their choice, detox centres and to friends or families.

Of the total, 71 were referred to housing, the province said.

Corbould noted that the city does not have data that says how many people who were referred to housing were actually provided with housing.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said at the meeting Monday about half the people evicted from encampments have used the navigation centre, though he wondered "where are the rest going?"

The province launched the navigation centre in central Edmonton the day after the Court of King's Bench dismissed a lawsuit against the city over encampment removals.

Justice Jonathan Martin ruled that the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights, which was trying to sue the city, shouldn't have legal standing to represent the interests of homeless people.

Closing high-risk camps

David Jones, the city's manager of community standards and neighbourhoods, said consolidating resources under the Emergency Operations Centre, opened the same day the province announced the navigation centre, has expedited the encampment removals.

It addresses the spike in complaints the city has received in the past couple of years.

January 2023 started with 206 complaints about encampments and by the end of the year, the city was getting 1,435 calls a month, Jones said.

Jo-Anne Wright, Ward Sspomitapi said that she's seen encampments pop up again after they've been dismantled.

"Aren't we just kind of throwing good money after bad if we keep spending money to clear the encampment it just crops up again?"

Stevenson said she's concerned people aren't given advance notice before structures are removed, especially in cold weather.

"The reason I think this is important is that the choices we make in those moments impact individuals' own journeys and the likelihood of them exiting homelessness."

"The degree to which we can provide a human-centred and trauma-informed response when encampments are being removed I think is really critical to the long-term success not only of our efforts but for in those individuals' lives," Stevenson said.

Council also heard that there are 1,559 shelter spaces available in Edmonton.

The province had committed to setting up 1,700 by last November, Wright noted.

Christel Kjenner, the city's director of housing and homelessness, said funding has been provided to operators but one facility is still working on getting to full capacity.

The Alberta government said it will review the centre after 30 days of operations to determine if changes need to be made.