Headlines: Dec. 18, 2023

· The Pulse
  • The Court of King's Bench has temporarily halted the removal of homeless encampments by the Edmonton Police Service, which planned to clear around 135 structures across eight sites in the city's core this week, just days before Christmas. Lawyer Avnish Nanda, representing the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights, argued the removals are inhumane given the lack of sufficient shelter space and the risk to the homeless of exposure to harsh winter conditions. Nanda also posted part of an affidavit online from EPS Staff Sgt. Michael Dreilich, who said that "city representatives agreed" with the police service's proposal to close the encampments. Arguments will continue in court on Dec. 18, with the city and police expected to provide details on the alleged dangers at each site. News of the planned removals sparked criticism among advocates, including the Bissell Centre, which said in a release the effort would "disproportionately affect Indigenous people" and does "not address the root causes of poverty and houselessness." Meanwhile, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi posted on Instagram on Dec. 15 that he had learned about the plan one day earlier, and that the "scale and timing" was concerning.
  • A study led by MacEwan University assistant professor Cynthia Puddu, in collaboration with Action Alliance for Youth Inclusion, is investigating why youth in Edmonton prefer encampments to shelters, with early findings indicating a lack of safety, privacy, and community support in shelter environments. Alison Thomas, an Edmontonian who was homeless for nearly a decade, spoke to Postmedia about her experience with homelessness and using shelters. Thomas, who last year found permanent housing through NiGiNan Housing Ventures, said that shelters were often a last resort to escape cold weather because she felt vulnerable in them and would "rather walk around all night."
  • The city has announced its holiday service changes. Edmonton Transit Service will have reduced schedules on Dec. 25, 26, and Jan.1, and free transit beginning 6pm on Dec. 31 until the end of service, with some routes extended until 3am. Several bus routes will be detoured because of road closures around Churchill Square on New Year's Eve. Natural Christmas tree curbside collection begins Jan. 22, and trees can be dropped off at Recycling Depots until Jan. 24. Several city attractions, including the Edmonton Valley Zoo and Muttart Conservatory, will have special holiday hours and events, with the zoo hosting Zoominescence until Jan. 3, and the Muttart featuring its Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree pyramid until Jan. 7.
  • Members of the Civic Service Union 52 who work for the City of Edmonton are preparing for a potential job action as contract negotiations remain at an impasse. The two sides are currently in mediation, with the city proposing no raise for 2021, 1% for 2022, and 2% for 2023, which the union says is not enough because of high inflation and interest rates. Union president Lanny Chudyk said members are prepared to strike, which could have significant impacts on city services. The city says it has contingency plans in place for a possible work stoppage.
  • NDP Leader Rachel Notley, who has steered her party for nearly a decade, is expected to announce her resignation early in 2024, setting the stage for a provincial NDP leadership race, according to an analysis piece from CBC News. Notley is credited with elevating the party from a small group of Edmonton MLAs to a competitive force in Alberta politics. She will likely remain as leader until her successor is chosen, to maintain pressure on the UCP government. Among the potential candidates to replace her are Edmonton MLAs Sarah Hoffman and Rakhi Pancholi, or Calgary MLA Kathleen Ganley.
  • NiGiNan Housing Ventures is expanding Pimatisiwin, its housing and support centre located at the former Sands Hotel on Fort Road, to include 110 permanent rooms for Indigenous people with additional support services. Some local residents are protesting the expansion because they say there has not been enough community consultation. They're also opposed to temporary trailers recently brought on site for emergency shelter. "Our people are in need. They have complex needs. They were on the street for a reason," said NiGiNan CEO Keri Cardinal Schulte.
  • House of Wheels, an indoor action sport park, is facing financial difficulties and requires $55,000 to remain open. Business operator Bevan Purnel has launched a GoFundMe campaign and placed a donation jar on-site, with the community already contributing approximately $12,000 towards the goal. Facility users say the park is crucial for local extreme sports culture, especially during winter. The business needs to raise the remaining $43,000 by the end of December to keep its Edmonton and Calgary locations open.
  • Edmonton boutique Violets, co-owned by Danielle Ferchoff, is selling tiny knitted skates handcrafted by her 91-year-old grandmother, Irma Ferchoff, with all proceeds going to Boyle Street Community Services and WIN House. The skates, which can be used as jacket ornaments, holiday tree decorations, or gift tags, are part of an annual fundraiser that has already raised $2,250 from the sale of 282 pairs this year. Sales will continue until Dec. 24.
  • Volunteers flocked to the Jerry Forbes Centre for Community Spirit on Dec. 16 for the annual 630 CHED Santas Anonymous gift delivery day, which provides Christmas gifts to children in need across the city. This year, around 2,000 volunteers helped ensure that more than 22,000 children received toys, a book, and a stuffed animal. The charity, which started 68 years ago, saw an increase in new families seeking assistance last year, with 35% citing inflation and job losses as the main reasons for reaching out.
  • Toys "R" Us partnered with the Starlight Children's Foundation Canada to host a sensory-friendly shopping event in Edmonton on Dec. 17, providing each child with $50 to spend. Volunteer and local parent Greg Plante, whose son has Williams syndrome, said the event is important for special needs children and their families to connect with others in the community. The partnership, celebrating its 25th year, has raised $28 million for the charity to date.