Mayor Don Iveson says Edmonton is facing a homelessness emergency as the city has about ten weeks to find spaces for hundreds of people without homes.
"I think it's time to call a spade a spade — to say we have an emergency," Iveson said during council's emergency advisory committee meeting Thursday. "It's creating unacceptable social disorder in a number of communities in our city and in our downtown."
Since the Expo Centre closed as a drop in centre on Aug. 1 and an emergency isolation shelter on Aug. 14, councillors say many have noticed changes on the streets.
Coun. Scott McKeen said he's had constant complaints from constituents about homelessness, social disorder, crime and fear.
"I'm at wit's end, I'm really frustrated and angry," McKeen said. "I can't keep telling people that we're working on this, I need to show them that we're actually making progress.
"This is a catastrophe within a pandemic within a crisis."
The city's website lists a number of incidents considered to be social disorder, including mischief, noise, disturbances, weapons complaints, mental health act complaints, and arson.
McKeen said while the city continues to work on its permanent supportive housing facilities over the next three years, they need an interim solution for the winter.
Transition housing could include leasing work camp trailers, given the state of the oil industry, he suggested.
Ben Henderson, councillor for Ward 8, said he's also heard from neighbourhoods south of the river of a substantial increase in social disorder problems.
"The number of homeless in our community has grown over the course of COVID and I think it probably is COVID-related," Henderson said. "More people are in dire straits in the city or something has shifted."
Rob Smythe, manager of citizens services, said the housing agency Homeward Trust estimates about 1,900 people are considered homeless this year, up from 1,500 last summer.
The agency has even found housing for 750 people this summer, he added.
Iveson said the city is still waiting to hear where the Alberta government's pledge of $48 million to support homeless people during the pandemic will be used.
Hope Mission and the Mustard Seed have added services since the Expo closed as a shelter with 24/7 access including food, showers, and support services.
Iveson said mayors in municipalities around the country see an urgent need for a solution.
"It's time for some decisive action before another winter."
He's been lobbying provincial and federal governments for several years for more commitment on permanent supportive housing.
"Not just another box of Band-Aids for a problem that we know has a cure, a very simple cure: housing first."
The city is working on winding down Camp Pekiwewin in Rossdale, Iveson said, where about 170 tents are set up.
"Before it gets too cold, we want to provide them with safe shelter options," he said.
Supportive housing options are also in the works.
"We want to see that happen in the short-term," Iveson said. "We're on a 10-week plan to end homelessness."
The camp was set up at the end of July on green space across from Re/Max Field partially in response to the Expo Centre closing as a shelter.
Outreach and health care workers are there daily; food and services are provided to hundreds passing through.
Interim city manager Adam Laughlin told council that the city, the Rossdale community and social agencies are working "to find a mutual, agreeable transition from the camp into more permanent supportive housing solutions."
On Friday, organizers are expected to clarify the demands and conditions they're seeking if the camp is to shut down.
"At this time there are no significant public safety risks," Laughlin noted.