Edmonton rewrites ambitious 2017 plan to end homelessness after failing to meet goals

An encampment near the Hope Mission at 101 Street and 105A Avenue in Edmonton on Nov. 7, 2023. (Terry Reith/CBC - image credit)
An encampment near the Hope Mission at 101 Street and 105A Avenue in Edmonton on Nov. 7, 2023. (Terry Reith/CBC - image credit)

Six years after Edmonton embarked on its plan to end homelessness, the city is struggling to come up with ways to house more than 3,000 people.

A new report prepared by Homeward Trust, the agency that manages housing programs, outlined the unforeseen factors that "challenged efforts to end homelessness."

The COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing addictions and mental health crises, inflation and more people moving into the city all stymied steps to reach the goals set in 2017.

Susan McGee, Homeward Trust CEO, presented the report, Learnings from Implementation of the 2017 Plan to Prevent & End Homelessness, to council's community and public services committee on Monday.

"We still have work to do, and we still fail people," McGee told the committee. "And we still need to do other work better."

Homeward Trust presented the successes as well: that 8,500 people have been housed since 2017, and that 72 per cent of those remain in stable housing.

Ward Nakota Isga Coun. Andrew Knack said the wins reflect the city's investment of hundreds of millions of dollars over the past few years.

"But it's just nowhere near enough," Knack told reporters. "I'm happy on one hand, but I mean still feeling very frustrated that we're, we're where we are today."

Filling the gaps

The 2017 plan estimated the city needed more than 900 new supportive housing spaces.

Although 430 units opened in various projects, Homeward Trust estimates another 1,300 units are needed.

The report also noted a gap in funding: the 2017 plan called for $65 million annually for Edmonton to address housing instability, while the city has $48 million this year to work with.

"This increase has not fully kept up with population growth and the inflow of individuals experiencing homelessness, as well as the increasing costs of program operations due to inflationary pressures," the report says.

Knack said that the solutions aren't a mystery: a combination of permanent supportive housing with 24/7 support services, and recovery beds that the province plans to build.

New plans in the works

The city and Homeward Trust are working on three new plans due next year: an updated affordable housing strategy; a new community plan to end homelessness and a corporate plan to reduce homelessness, which will outline the city's responsibilities.

Christel Kjenner, director of housing and homelessness with the city, said they want to update the plan since a lot has changed since 2017.

"So we're working really closely with Homeward Trust to engage a wide range of people with lived and living experience as well as agencies and others to look at what needs to happen in Edmonton overall to help reduce and eliminate homelessness."

McGee said during the pandemic, the city got consumed with managing the crisis in the short term.

"We need to keep our eye on the long game, and we need to be still focused on long-term solutions,"

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi also echoed the hopeful spirit in light of the 2017 report.

"If we put our commitment — our heads together — we can end houselessness in our city," Sohi said outside the committee. "We need to work together and continue to advocate for the province and the federal government and the community to continue to step up to find solutions."