City councillor surprised to learn Commonwealth homeless shelter has opened

·3 min read

News of a shelter opening at Commonwealth Stadium to accommodate about 120 homeless people came as a surprise to city councillor Scott McKeen at a meeting on Wednesday.

McKeen said the city didn't consult or tell him before it allowed part of the stadium to be used as a homeless shelter.

"I can't tell you how dismayed I am to hear that, that this comes to me as a surprise," McKeen said during a community and public services committee meeting.

Rob Smyth, deputy city manager of citizen services, confirmed the Commonwealth space opened earlier this week to replace an overnight shelter at the Central Lions Recreation Centre.

That space was opened near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smyth said he has heard initial reports that things are running as smoothly as can be expected.

"Impact on community is very much front of mind," Smyth said. "So we really want to make sure that Hope Mission, who's the operator, can get a plan in place so the impact on community is absolutely minimized."

McKeen said: "I am absolutely blown away, Mr. Smyth, that this would happen on my watch without some heads up and some meeting with me about this. I'm really, really frustrated."

Smith replied, "Apologies councillor," and said a meeting will be set up to discuss details.

Smyth said the city is working with the operator to scale up the temporary overnight shelter to 24/7 over the coming days.

Bruce Reith, executive director of Hope Mission, said they moved operations from the Central Lions Senior Centre to Commonwealth on Oct. 23.

He said they're working on staffing needed to run an all-day shelter, located in an enclosed concession area off the concourse level of the stadium.

The shelter will be open for the winter only.

"I never thought I'd see the day where we had an emergency shelter at the Commonwealth Stadium — that's a new one."

McKeen said when clients are asked to leave in the morning, there's an increase in social disorder.

"If Commonwealth Stadium overflow shelter is 24/7, I will defend it," McKeen said. "We're in the midst of a pandemic, we need overflow space because of social distancing.

"I can't defend it to McCauley if early morning, people are kicked out of the shelter and into the community."

Bridge housing

The committee gave its blessing Wednesday to a bridge housing project set to open by end of the month.

The former jockey dormitory on the Exhibition Lands will house 36 people.

Coun. Tony Caterina expressed concern about a repeat of social disorder complaints around the Expo Centre in the spring, when the facility opened as a temporary shelter at the beginning of the pandemic.

"The community's got expectations," Caterina said. "I was wondering if the clients have been spoken to about what the expectation is from them on their conduct in the neighbourhoods."

Jackie Foord, the city's manager of social development, said clients sign a behavioural agreement before moving into bridge housing.

"It's important to note that the folks that are in bridge housing have made a commitment to work with the housing outreach workers," Foord said.

"So there are expectations of those clients that they will work with their housing outreach worker, to look at apartments to get all the paperwork together that they need."

Most clients will stay between 30 to 90 days before they're moved into more permanent lodgings, Foord said.

Homeward trust will operate the housing in the short-term.

The nearby Coliseum Inn is also housing nearly 100 people.

The Edmonton Convention Centre is set to open by next week and will accommodate 300 people overnight and 400 during the day.

@natashariebe