Addressing Homelessness in Edmonton

Madeleine Cummings · CBC News · Posted: Jun 08, 2021 5:00 AM MT | Last Updated: June 8

Original article can be read here

For Jeremy Samuel McFeeters, a one-bedroom apartment remains just out of reach. Having struggled with addiction, he seeks a spot away from the inner city and free of roommates who are drinking or using drugs. But with a budget of $500, he has few options. Even places that look good on paper don't seem to work out. McFeeters recalled applying for an apartment with a balcony that was in his price range. After disclosing he was a 52-year-old First Nations applicant, he was given a different price for an apartment without a balcony, then referred to someone else, who suggested a worse unit. "There's just no place to rent that's decent for people trying to help themselves," he said.

Addressing homelessness emerged as a high priority in a recent CBC Edmonton poll on city issues. Of 900 respondents, 80 per cent called the issue highly important. Young adults, women, public sector workers and those who approve of the job Don Iveson has done as mayor were most likely to give the issue a high importance score.Ahead of the fall election, Edmontonians who have experienced homelessness and people who have been working to address it told CBC News that they hope candidates approach the issue with compassion. "We need to make life better for them, and our whole community will benefit as a result," said Cam McDonald, executive director of the Right at Home Housing Society. McFeeters said politicians should start by treating people without homes like human beings, not statistics. "They need to look at us, not just see us," he said.

Platforms and policies

Voters who analyze the platforms of mayoral candidates will find numerous commitments to address homelessness, including ideas like stopping tent slashing and creating a credit voucher program for landlords offering affordable housing. Cynthia Puddu, an assistant professor at MacEwan University who studies how government policies affect people without housing, supports policies like free public transit and education campaigns about tenant rights and affordable housing. "A big part of what councillors and mayors can do is to educate their constituents about what it means to have affordable housing, and really push for that and push back when communities say 'No, we don't want that in our community,'" she said. Murray Soroka, founder and CEO of Jasper Place Wellness Centre, hopes future city leaders streamline the development permit process to build affordable housing. He said he encountered an "astronomical" amount of red tape while trying to construct a three-building affordable housing complex in the west end. With incentives like reduced or waived permit fees and faster timelines, "I think we could get more housing built," he said.

'Show me you can lead people'

Increasing the city's supply of affordable housing may be important, but it's only part of the answer to ending homelessness, advocates say. "We can't just put people in apartments," said Susan McGee, the CEO of Homeward Trust. "We have to actually support them as part of our community." Vee Duncan, who runs the non-profit Nék̓em, spends hours distributing home-cooked meals to campers and helping people in transition.Having been homeless in the past, Duncan knows the systemic barriers that can keep people, especially Indigenous people who are overrepresented in Edmonton's homeless population, from securing housing. Duncan hopes more candidates follow the lead of Glynnis Lieb, who is running for a council seat in Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi and has been handing out meals with Nék̓em. "I want to see them out here doing this, taking care of the people. You want to lead people? Show me you can lead people," Duncan said.