Headlines: Jan. 16, 2024

· The Pulse
  • An Edmonton city council meeting became heated as councillors debated Mayor Amarjeet Sohi's motion to declare a housing and homelessness emergency. Sohi's proposal includes the creation of a task force, a meeting with provincial and federal representatives, and $3.5 million in "seed money" to implement solutions. "People are dying. Declaring an emergency will signal to Edmontonians that council understands the magnitude of this problem," Sohi said. The packed meeting was disrupted at points from members of the public who were critical of the city's recent encampment removals. Council deferred its decision to Jan. 16. If approved, the task force would aim to mobilize sectors, raise capital, and address root causes. The city is still facing a lawsuit from the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights on its approach to homeless encampments, with court proceedings scheduled to continue Jan. 16.
  • In his latest opinion column, Postmedia journalist Keith Gerein argued that the response to homelessness in Edmonton has become a "political game," as Mayor Amarjeet Sohi seeks to declare a housing and homelessness emergency, which provincial minister Jason Nixon criticized as a "stunt." Gerein wrote that the province should focus less on available shelter spaces and instead determine why so many people would rather sleep outdoors or in encampments. He also argued for longer-term solutions such as supportive housing. "We need all parties and all ideas at the table, and an end to the political pettiness," he wrote.
  • The City of Edmonton is reducing its electricity use in the face of high grid demand as severe cold continues. Decorative lights on the Walterdale Bridge and High Level Bridge have been off since Jan. 14, and lights at Commonwealth Stadium, Churchill Square, and City Hall Plaza are also off. The Muttart Conservatory has switched to white lights, which are needed for safety, and efforts to reduce electricity use at other city facilities are ongoing. Crews have finished clearing snow from Priority 1 roads, and work on Priority 2 and 3 roads will continue as long as temperatures are above -40°C.
  • The Old Strathcona Youth Society, which provides crucial services to unhoused and vulnerable youths, has received an eviction notice from its current location after the City of Edmonton found structural issues with the 100-year-old building. The society is working with the city to find alternative spaces before the March 31 deadline to leave, but "currently there are no city leasing options available in the Strathcona area," it said on its website. The society's executive director, Ian Pidgeon, is exploring an outreach model to continue services if a building isn't found.
  • Edmonton Public School Board teachers have averted a strike after 95.6% voted in favour of the latest contract settlement. Members of the Edmonton Public Teachers' Local 37 had been without a contract since 2020. The new agreement must still be ratified by the school board, which is set to meet next on Jan. 23.
  • University of Alberta professor Matina Kalcounis-Rueppell appeared on CBC's Edmonton AM to discuss her research into how urban noise impacts nocturnal animals like bats and rodents. Kalcounis-Rueppell said her research involves eavesdropping on these animals at night using cameras and microphones to help understand their activities and biology, and how human activity affects them. "How are we impacting those animals ... and how do we mitigate those impacts," she said.
  • Meika's Safehouse, a bird rehabilitation centre in Sherwood Park, Alberta, is seeking a larger facility after renovations reduced its space and forced it to rehome more than 100 birds. The centre, which has already accepted 10 large birds and turned away 17 budgie surrenders at the beginning of the year, requires a building with at least 3,000 square feet to house birds, supplies, and staff work areas. "We just need more space. We can't accommodate everything we need to do with the spaces we have," co-owner Ian Sprage said.
  • A new real estate report from Royal LePage indicates that the aggregate price of an Edmonton home increased by 0.8% year over year to $430,500 in the fourth quarter of 2023. While the new year will have the lowest housing inventory levels since 2014, "homes will still remain affordable in Edmonton compared to other major cities across Canada," said Tom Shearer of Royal LePage Noralta Real Estate. The aggregate price of a home in Canada increased by 4.3% year over year to $789,500 in the fourth quarter of 2023, but decreased 1.7% decrease from the previous quarter.
  • Edmonton photographer Bing Li received an honourable mention in the "Urban and Natural Landscapes" category of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society's 2023 Canadian Photos of the Year competition. Brandon Broderick, of Tumbler Ridge, B.C., earned the title of Canadian Photographer of the Year. The winning images will be featured in the March/April issue of Canadian Geographic, hitting newsstands on Feb. 19.