Former jockey dorms used to help homeless Edmontonians transition into permanent homes

·3 min read

A former residence for horse racing jockeys is now being used to give Edmontonians struggling with homelessness better odds at finding a home.

The former jockey dorms at Northlands have been renovated and operating as a bridge housing facility for the past month.

Kevin Chapman, 56, has been staying at the dorms for about a month. He's one of 35 people who have a private room and is provided daily meals through the building's dining service. His stay is expected to be temporary.

Chapman has been struggling with homelessness for the past two years and say he's grateful to be staying somewhere private.

"I don't have to worry when I get up and crawl from underneath that pine tree or wherever," he said. "Shelters turn me away sometimes, because they're full. So, you look wherever you can. Having a place over your head is a big thing."

Like other guests at the dorsm, Chapman has a housing support coordinator from Homeward Trust who helps him get what he needs to find a permanent home, from proper documentation to finding suitable vacancies and setting up viewings.

Travis McEwan/CBC
Travis McEwan/CBC

"It's helped get my mind straightened out a little bit more focused on what I do," Chapman said. "So in the end, I think it helps tremendously."

Guests at bridge housing facilities are expected to stay for anywhere from one to three months before transitioning into a home. They're referred through Boyle Street Community Street Community Services.

The jockey dorms bridge housing facility opened last month after signing a three-year lease with the City of Edmonton. So far, five people have found or are in the process of moving into permanent housing.

Travis McEwan/CBC
Travis McEwan/CBC

While the facility is in its early stages, Homeward Trust's CEO Susan McGee says it's allowed coordinators to find housing options specific to individual needs of guests.

"It's really meeting a very important gap and certainly it's building off of the experience we've had in our community with the bridge housing offered at the Coliseum Inn," she said.

"So as we work and as we grow as a system to make sure that we get that immediate access to really stable environments, a focus of the team has been to really nuance and make sure that as the folks that are being referred there, we're identifying potential barriers, challenges."

2 of 3 bridge housing facilities considered temporary

Two Edmonton hotels are also being used as bridge housing.

An EconoLodge in south Edmonton has 35 available rooms and The Coliseum Inn on Wayne Gretzky Drive has 95 rooms. Since the Coliseum Inn bridge housing opened in the spring of 2020 there have been 231 people who have moved from the hotel to permanent housing.

The two bridge housing hotels have been funded through pandemic relief money, as a part of the City of Edmonton's plan to get people out of encampments and into safe shelter during the pandemic, which also included opening the Edmonton Convention Centre and Commonwealth Stadium as 24/7 shelter spaces.

The plan is expected to be in place until the end of March, but it doesn't mean the temporary bridge housing programs will be scrapped.

"Those funding programs are time limited. They potentially run out in March, but we are also just continually assessing our needs and ability to continue to keep them open," said Colton Kirsop, manager of project development for affordable housing and homelessness with the City of Edmonton.

"So if there is a major need to keep those open, I think we will be continually looking at whether or not we can fund them through a different funding stream. The federal government may extend their funding packages as well."

Travis McEwan/CBC
Travis McEwan/CBC

As for Chapman, he's happy that bridge housing now exists in the city at a time when he's ready to find a home.

"I'm glad. Finally somebody is doing something about it. it's great. It's good for me, so far and anybody else," he said.

"You can just start working on getting your life straight."