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Support centre for homeless will be permanent in Edmonton, expanded to Calgary: province

The Alberta government is making a navigation and support centre to provide safe shelter for the homeless in Edmonton permanent and has announced plans for a similar facility to be created in Calgary.

The UCP government announced it was setting up the centre in mid-January, largely to deal with the hundreds of homeless people displaced after Edmonton police dismantled eight encampments deemed by the city to be high risk.

Over the past two months, staff at the facility have offered a range of supports, including mental-health and addiction treatment, primary health care and income support.

The facility has also provided Indigenous cultural supports and liaisons, and connected people to shelter, housing and financial services, as well as helped them obtain valid Alberta identification.

“We’ve seen dozens of homeless encampments spring up in marginal spaces and on city streets … all over our provincial capital. But this isn’t just an Edmonton issue,” Premier Danielle Smith said Tuesday.

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“The rising cost of living, a lethal addiction crisis and a decreased housing supply have all contributed to a major increase in homeless encampments in recent years.”

Smith said people have died in fires and from drug overdoses. She said others have been assaulted, sexually abused, robbed and exploited, and some encampments are controlled by criminal gangs.

“We won’t allow misery and despair to have our home in our city,” Smith said. “Enabling encampments is not compassion; it is cruelty.”

Click to play video: 'What’s next for Edmonton’s homeless encampment? Complex challenges loom'

What’s next for Edmonton’s homeless encampment? Complex challenges loom

Alberta Social Services Minister Jason Nixon said over the past two months, the navigation centre model has exceeded expectations. He said more than 700 people have accessed its services, resulting in more than 2,200 referrals to services such as housing, health supports, addiction recovery and Indigenous support.

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“We will be expanding this concept into Calgary to help address the needs of the homeless population in that city. Conversations are ongoing between Alberta’s government, officials in the City of Calgary and our partners,” Nixon said.

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“The techniques we are learning from the navigation centre, we will be repeating in communities that are smaller than Edmonton and Calgary,” Nixon said.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton to increase encampment cleanups as support centre opens'

Edmonton to increase encampment cleanups as support centre opens

Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee said since the dismantling of the camps and setting up the navigation centre, the encampments are smaller, fewer in number and less dispersed throughout the city.

“There have been no fatal tent fires. No overdose deaths in encampments. Edmontonians have not been burning or freezing to death in tents,” McFee said.

“Instead they’re getting mental-health, addiction treatment, housing, cultural supports. All of the solutions long needed for long-term success.”

McFee said it’s also worth noting that calls for police service in identified encampment areas have dropped by nine per cent.

Click to play video: 'Cache of knives, swords, axes and other weapons found at Edmonton encampment'

Cache of knives, swords, axes and other weapons found at Edmonton encampment

Housing advocates say the services being offered at the navigation and support centre are helpful but mirror what other local agencies offer.

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“The only reason for trotting out the statistics about the navigation centre is to keep us from noticing the multitude of really important ways they are failing to care about people living in homelessness,” said Jim Gurnett, a housing advocate.

Gurnett says he’s like to see more services diverted to social housing.

The Opposition NDP is questioning how many people who accessed the centre were actually matched with permanent housing.

“Remaining trapped in the shelter system is not the same as being housed,” said Janis Irwin, NDP housing critic. “We need permanent, supportive housing with wraparound services and greater investments in Indigenous-led housing. We don’t need more mats on the floor or crowded shelter spaces.”

With files from Global News

&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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