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Advocates call for more immediate help for those in need as Edmonton eyes homelessness emergency

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi is expected to declare a homelessness emergency on Monday.

Last week, he admitted clearing eight homeless camps in the city deemed high-risk may not be in line with the city’s commitments to reconciliation.

People are lining up at overnight shelters around the city, with overnight temperatures dropping to -35 C on Thursday, and -36 C on Friday and Saturday.

The Alberta government has insisted safe spaces are available for anyone seeking shelter with no one turned away. Jason Nixon, the province’s minister of seniors, community and social services, reiterated the pledge on Friday, saying shelter capacity in Edmonton was at 94 per cent.

If the declaration is approved, Sohi plans to invite provincial, federal and Indigenous officials to meet.

“We have a shared responsibility, and we have a collective responsibility to ensure Edmontonians that are struggling on our streets are given tangible long-term solutions,” he said on Friday.

The founder of the Bear Claw Beaver Hills House, an Indigenous-led agency helping people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton, is hopeful about the meeting but questions how quickly changes will come.

“An emergency meeting would mean a meeting in less than 24 hours, not waiting four days,” Judith Gale told CTV News Edmonton on Sunday.

The Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness says it supports the city declaring an emergency so people in danger can be helped and core issues addressed, but its chair said in a media release Sunday the efforts need to be comprehensive.

“All improved measures to address the misery of life for people who are homeless will only be bandages … if the emergency response does not include getting much more social housing and supportive housing available, as well as better community services for mental health,” Nadine Chalifoux, the coalition’s chair, said in a statement.

Nixon said Friday he will not attend an emergency meeting called by Sohi — saying he has no interest in “playing political games” — and that the province has already formed an emergency committee on the issue in November made up of cabinet ministers, the Treaty 6 grand chief and Edmonton’s police chief.

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