The Pulse: Dec. 1, 2022

Here's what you need to know about Edmonton today.

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  • -22°C: Mainly sunny. Wind up to 15 km/h. High minus 22. Wind chill near minus 30. Risk of frostbite. (forecast)
  • Red: The High Level Bridge will be lit red for World AIDS Day. (details)
  • 5-4: The Edmonton Oilers (13-10-0) defeated the Chicago Blackhawks (6-12-4) on Nov. 30. (details)
  • 6pm: The Edmonton Oilers play the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. (details)

A screenshot of Bear Clan's Judith Gale speaking online to a public hearing on the budget

New emergency shelter spaces approved as deaths mount

By Mack Male

After a day of public hearings on the city's budgets for the next four years, city council unanimously approved spending $7.5 million from current reserves to create more emergency shelter spaces this winter.

Administration had proposed using $7.5 million from the Financial Stabilization Reserve for the Jasper Place Wellness Centre to operate 209 new shelter spaces for six months in a former hotel at 155 Street and Stony Plain Road. Expected to open in about four weeks, the project will increase the number of shelter spaces in the city to 1,281 for the winter.

Just moments before the vote, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he had received confirmation that another person had died outside in the cold earlier in the day. "This is a crisis that we're facing," he said, mentioning several other deaths in the past few weeks. "All of them are preventable deaths."

Sohi called on council to approve the funding unanimously to "show to the province that we are trying to fill those gaps and that we are compassionate people who will show up and stand up for Edmontonians when others don't." The proposed funding was approved unanimously.

In a subsequent motion, Sohi requested an emergency meeting with the provincial government regarding the emergency shelter space crisis in Edmonton, which council also approved unanimously.

"Shelter capacity has consistently been above 95% on cold nights," he said. "Significant inequity exists between the number of permanent shelter spaces funded for the City of Calgary compared to the City of Edmonton."

According to data from Homeward Trust, there are more than 2,650 people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton. More than 1,200 of those are sleeping in emergency shelters or outdoors, up from about 650 individuals who relied on shelters or slept "rough" in 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Edmonton has 622 permanently funded emergency shelter spaces. On Oct. 1, the province approved $5 million for 450 additional spaces for the winter. Those spaces have slowly been coming online, with more than 300 operational as of this week. The province indicated to administration that all 450 new spaces would be operational by mid-December at the latest.

Several speakers during three days of public hearings on the 2023-2026 budgets called on the city to fund housing. Judith Gale spoke on behalf of Bear Clan Beaver Hills House in favour of a change in priorities.

"I believe the budget is going too much towards policing," she told council. "We have to shift from that to human beings."

She cried as she spoke about several recent deaths in the community. "People are getting more desperate as the weather is getting worse," she said. "Let's put some heart back into this city."

Photo: Judith Gale of Bear Clan Beaver Hills House spoke to city council during a public hearing on Nov. 30. (City of Edmonton/YouTube)


Headlines: Dec. 1, 2022

By Kevin Holowack

  • Edmonton police and fire services reported three deaths of people living in encampments within the first two weeks of November. One of the deaths occurred on Nov. 9, when temperatures dropped to -26°C overnight and shelters were at 98% capacity. Neither the province nor the city track mortality rates among Edmontonians experiencing homelessness. Elliott Tanti, a spokesperson for Boyle Street Community Services, said the lack of data suggests the deaths are not considered a priority and that it is "incumbent" on Edmonton to follow the lead of other jurisdictions, such as Toronto, that have begun publicly tracking deaths of people who are homeless. Homeward Trust's By Name List indicates that 1,254 of the 2,750 people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton currently report sleeping in shelters or outdoors. There are only 1,072 shelter spaces available in the city heading into winter.
  • More than 5,000 City of Edmonton employees had their private information compromised in a data breach discovered in May 2021. According to the city, a former employee accessed records without authorization and uploaded documents from city-owned computers to their personal cloud-based account. Daryl Croft, branch manager of Open City and Technology (OCT) said the city hired an IT forensics consultant firm to gain access to the former employee's cloud account and determine what personal information was contained within 157,000 records it identified. "OCT immediately strengthened its processes and safeguards to reduce the possibility of something like this happening in the future," Croft said, adding he has no reason to believe the information was shared beyond the former employee. However, as the city was only able to review a portion of the affected records, the full extent of the breach remains undetermined. The city also noted is it not in a position to delete the records from the cloud account.
  • A series of earthquakes in northern Alberta, which were detected on Nov. 29 in the Peace River region about 360 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, caused rumbling across the province and aftershocks through the night. According to Earthquakes Canada, two 5.2-magnitude earthquakes were followed by a 5.8-magnitude earthquake shortly before 6pm, which may go down as the largest seismic event ever recorded in Alberta, ahead of the 5.4-magnitude earthquake recorded in 2001. Rebecca Salvage, an earthquake expert at the University of Calgary, said the biggest earthquake occurred at least six kilometres underground, which is likely too deep for it to be caused by human behaviour. The Alberta Energy Regulator, which had investigated tremors in the region the previous week, said the earthquakes were likely caused by natural tectonic activity as there is no active hydraulic fracturing in the area. Some Edmontonians took to Reddit to share that they felt tremors across the city.
  • Tom Viinikka, CEO of the Edmonton Screen Industries Office (ESIO), asked city council during the budget public hearing this week to increase the group's yearly funding from $1.2 million to $1.5 million, which Viinikka said will support more events for film and interactive digital media companies and adjust for inflation. The ESIO also wants to expand its office, connect with more production companies, and offer grants to start-ups. Viinikka noted that Alberta's film industry generates around $550 million a year, with most filming done in the Calgary area.
  • Commonwealth Stadium will host The Style Experience, an event for the International Ski Federation Snowboard Big Air World Cup on Dec. 10. Construction crews have been building the 147-foot-tall and 483-foot-long snowboard jump at the southeast end of the stadium since early November. "We see these kind of jumps on mountains quite regularly," said Richard Hegarty, an event specialist for Canada Snowboard. "But to see them in a stadium is just so impressive." Athletes from more than 40 countries will compete in the event, which is expected to attract 10,000 people.
  • The province has selected Graham Construction to build the new major interchange at Queen Elizabeth II Highway and 65th Avenue in Leduc, which it says will "drive economic momentum in Alberta's growing warehousing and logistics industry" by connecting the busy highway to cargo hubs around the Edmonton International Airport. Construction is expected to begin in late 2022 and take three years. The $112 million-project will include a new overpass, on-off ramps, and various ramp and intersection improvements. Leduc Mayor Bob Young said back in 2019 that the interchange has been a priority for years.
  • The Edmonton City as Museum Project published a piece by University of Alberta history student Kassandra Milette reflecting on the impact of Edmonton's 1947-1953 polio epidemic, which marked some of the most damaging years for polio in the city. "The undeniable role that polio played in the advancement of pediatric medicine and sanitation while adapting to developing knowledge by health care workers, is still remembered today," Milette wrote.
A 3D rendering of a furnished living room with six pieces of art on the wall

Clavis Studio opens virtual art exhibition

By Karen Unland

An Edmonton-based startup that helps interior designers visualize and demonstrate their work is collaborating with an online art gallery to showcase both its platform and the work of Canadian artists.

Clavis Studio opened its virtual art exhibition on Nov. 22. It's a collaboration with the Ontario-based Artterra, which connects art lovers and interior designers with emerging Canadian artists and artisans.

Clavis built 3D models of some of Artterra's pieces and placed them within a set of virtual rooms that can be visited on the web or through a VR headset.

It's "a way to help people see what can be done with the Clavis platform — what can be built, what can be visualized, what can be shared," Clavis Studio co-founder Abby Aiyeleye told Episode 40 of Bloom.

The collaboration emerged when Aiyeleye met Artterra founder Parisa Golchoubian met at Blueprint: Backing BIPOC Businesses, a mentorship and grant program to support the advancement of BIPOC business owners, which was run by the DMZ in Toronto with funding from the American Express Foundation.

Golchoubian called the collaboration "a dream partnership for our businesses" and an immersive experience "that truly feels like the future of art and interior design."

So far, people seem to be interacting with the art the way they would in real life, Aiyeleye observed.

"What we found really interesting is people would ... move really close to a painting to look at the detail that you would typically miss in a video or a picture," she said. "So that's been exciting, just getting that feedback."

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A man installs solar panels on the roof of a house

Climate change raised repeatedly during budget hearing

By Karen Unland and Mack Male

Climate change has been consistently raised as a priority — and a gap in the proposed budget — during an extended public hearing on the 2023-2026 draft budgets.

"It doesn't seem like our administration is taking the state of the climate emergency seriously," said Shafraaz Kaba, past co-chair of Edmonton's Energy Transition Climate Resilience Committee. "Every decision must be a climate decision."

He said the community is concerned about this budget, and he joined several other speakers in calling for funding to implement the city's Community Energy Transition Strategy. That would include support for active transportation, subsidies for solar installations, and more.

Heather MacKenzie of Solar Alberta said the draft budget is "fundamentally misaligned with the climate emergency" that city council declared in 2019. She called on council to restore funding to "extremely impactful and successful programs such as the home and business energy efficiency (and) solar rebate programs."

City council also heard requests to fund housing instead of more policing, as well as calls for increased support for Chinatown, changes to enable more urban agriculture, and concern about the upcoming closure of Hawrelak Park, among other things.

The public hearing on the draft budgets was extended to a third day on Nov. 30 to allow time for dozens more speakers to provide their input.

City council began its budget meeting on Nov. 30, and will hear from civic agencies starting Dec. 1. Budget deliberations will continue on Dec. 7, 9, 12, 13, 14, and 16, if required.

Photo: Edmonton's current draft budget doesn't include funding to subsidize the installation of solar panels. (Bill Mead/Unsplash)