Edmonton city council to ask province to help fund Chinatown operations hub

·3 min read
A new operations centre for Chinatown is part of the city's safety plan, released after two men were killed in the neighbourhood in May. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC - image credit)
A new operations centre for Chinatown is part of the city's safety plan, released after two men were killed in the neighbourhood in May. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC - image credit)

A new operations hub aimed at addressing disorder and crime in Edmonton's Chinatown is still in the works as city council looks to the province to step up with funding.

The Healthy Streets Operations Centre is estimated to cost $18 million over four years in a joint city-police collaboration, administration told council at a meeting Monday.

The city would hire four new peace officer sergeants, 16 community peace officers, two community safety liaisons and three firefighters or fire prevention officers to staff the centre.

The centre would cost the city $10.7 million from 2023 to 2026, a city administration report says.

The police would also require $7.4 million over two years for officers' salaries, equipment and materials.

David Jones, branch manager of community standards and neighbourhoods, said if the plan were approved Monday, the centre could open early next year.

Recruiting, hiring and training 20 new peace officers is estimated to take six months, Jones said.

The cost represents a possible tax levy increase of 0.11 per cent in 2023 and another 0.05 per cent the next year, Jones said.

Provincial gap

Council agreed to wait until the next meeting on Aug. 15 to approve the project, in a motion put forward by Coun. Andrew Knack.

Knack said the Healthy Streets Operations Centre report lacks details on the social agencies needed to respond to mental health and homelessness-related issues.

"We've got a lot of great enforcement mechanisms here. I haven't seen anything related to the social supports," he said.

Bissell Centre, the daytime drop-in shelter at 96th Street and 105th Avenue, is operating on reduced hours, he noted.

"Encampments are set up along the street and this doesn't solve that part of it and so spending money just on enforcement without understanding how we're going to deal with this other piece, for me personally feels like an incomplete picture right now," Knack said.

Knack said the province has a responsibility to step up.

"Without them coming to the table, we'll continue to leave Chinatown, our core, with half-measures to actually solve what are very complex problems," he said.

"Mental health, addictions and houselessness are indeed a provincial responsibility," City manager Andre Corbould confirmed.

'We delivered'

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said most of the challenges in Chinatown are related to homelessness and addictions and a lack of investment in health and housing.

The centre is part of Edmonton's safety plan, which was released in early June after then-Justice Minister Tyler Shandro demanded the city present a strategy to curb ongoing crime.

The operations hub is being set up in Chinatown in response to ongoing calls for the city and police to address crime in the area, and after two men, 64-year-old Hung Trang and 61-year-old Ban Phuc Hoang, were killed at Chinatown businesses.

"They demanded action from us, which we delivered, so I think it's very important that we asked them to step up as well," Sohi said during the meeting Monday.

The mayor will write a letter to the province again to request funding before council meets again in mid-August.

Corbould said the centre is modelled on the need for specific services.

"If it's medical support you need, EMS is there," he said. "If it's social supports, from housing to shelter, then that is immediately available."

Corbould said the project is aimed at helping residents and businesses but also homeless people on the streets, who are also vulnerable and being preyed on by criminal elements.

The city is looking at a few potential buildings for the centre, Corbould said.

"There's also been offers from different businesses in Chinatown to provide the facility at no cost, which is a good partnership," he said.

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