Set to close this weekend, Edmonton emergency shelter gets one-month reprieve

·3 min read
Hope Mission's temporary shelter at the Spectrum building on the former site of the Northlands Park Racetrack and Casino now has funding to remain open until the end of November. (Jamie McCannel/CBC - image credit)
Hope Mission's temporary shelter at the Spectrum building on the former site of the Northlands Park Racetrack and Casino now has funding to remain open until the end of November. (Jamie McCannel/CBC - image credit)

An Edmonton emergency shelter set to close this weekend will remain open at least another month, following the extension of provincial funding.

The temporary shelter operated by Hope Mission in the Spectrum building north of Borden Park was set to close Sunday, but will keep its doors open until the end of November.

Justin Marshall, press secretary to the minister of Community and Social Services, confirmed the funding for November in an email. He said the ministry is reviewing Hope Mission's request for a further extension beyond next month, but said no decisions have been made.

Marshall noted that based on current reporting, shelter capacity in the city in October was at 70 per cent.

Christel Kjenner, director of affordable housing and homelessness with the City of Edmonton, said having extra space has helped with challenges brought on by the pandemic.

Kjenner said in the 10 years prior to the pandemic, the city had been making good headway on reducing homelessness. Numbers were down by about 45 per cent.

That trend rapidly reversed when COVID-19 hit: the homeless population has doubled between October 2019 and October 2021, Kjenner said, from about 1,390 to 2,811.

"Obviously when there's more people experiencing homelessness, there's more people's needs to be met. That creates an increased demand for services," Kjenner said.

Trevor Wilson/CBC
Trevor Wilson/CBC

On top of increased demand, public health guidelines mean capacity in shelters and day-service facilities is significantly reduced, which has prompted the need for more, temporary spaces.

In addition to the extension of provincial funding for Spectrum, the city will extend funding for day services offered by Boyle Street Community Services, the Mustard Seed and the Bissell Centre.

The funding was supposed to wrap up Sunday as well, but city administration approved cash to keep operations running until the end of December using existing budgets.

Paige Parsons/CBC
Paige Parsons/CBC

"It's made a huge difference for our community," said Aidan Inglis, director of programs with Boyle Street Community Services.

Inglis said funding that kicked in last April from both the city and Homeward Trust Edmonton has allowed Boyle Street to keep its doors open seven days a week instead of just Monday to Friday.

The funding has also made it possible for the downtown community hub to staff outdoor spaces, and to operate more activities and supports for housing, overdose response and other services.

With the news of ongoing funding through December, Boyle Street will be able to stay open in the evening as well, Inglis said, so that there's no gap in services with people stuck outside waiting for shelters to open after day facilities close.

Still, Inglis worries about there being enough daytime space for people, especially as the weather turns cold. He said day facility spots across the city are down by about 320 compared with last year because of the closure of services at the Edmonton Convention Centre.

With a new city council sworn in, Kjenner said city staff will bring forward plans for extending services and funding through the rest of the winter season, including plans for extreme weather.

Council will also be presented with an update on the second phase of city-funded supportive housing, which combines affordable housing with on-site health social supports.

The first phase, currently under development, will see 210 units at five sites open in early 2022.

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