To live or work in the city core is to witness the sad face of trauma and poverty, as it digs bottles out of dumpsters and searches endlessly for a safe place to rest, unharassed.
These are sons and daughters, sisters and brothers. These are fellow citizens. Their treatment is unacceptable.
A report recently came before Council from the Mayor’s office asking for an update on Edmonton’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. I co-sponsored that report, which asks some critical questions about the the status of the current plan, including an update on targets that were set out in the report that we, at all three levels of government, have not met.
There has been some progress made. Since the 2008 Homeless Count that identified 3,079 people living homeless, then the subsequent publication of the 10 Year Plan, there has been a 43% decrease in homelessness.
However, the 2016 count found 1,752 people living rough. It revealed that the City’s vision of a homelessness-free city will not be reached within the original timeline.
Seventy percent of the folks counted in 2016 were chronically homeless; nearly half self-identify as Indigenous.
With a plan update comes a tremendous opportunity to clarify how government and non-government agencies are doing. Using housing first principles, agencies have delivered efficient rapid re-housing and helped thousands of people find appropriate, affordable housing.
Yet what we know is that many of the remaining homeless are beset with issues and needs beyond the majority of existing services.
Many of these folk are mentally ill, isolated, and suffering the effects of trauma, either from childhood or from years living rough.
These folks regularly utilize crisis services offered by agencies that provide sanctuary, food, and assistance in health and wellness. They have far too many encounters with police, paramedics, and the courts. What they need, at least to begin with, is round-the-clock care – what we’d call extended care, or nursing care in other circumstances.
The questions the report have asked will result in a more comprehensive understanding of who the chronically homeless in this city are, why they aren’t being housed, and exactly what kind of housing we need to care for them.
The outreach model of emergency health care, soup kitchens, and temporary shelters doesn’t cut it, so far as truly ending the suffering of these forgotten people.
Make no mistake, the work done by social workers and others at shelter-district agencies is heroic. But it is up to government and the broad community to create an answer to ending homelessness, rather than asking police, paramedics, hospitals, and social agencies to merely deal with its effects.
Proper investment in permanent supportive housing will save money, save lives, and save us the printing costs of another plan to end homelessness.