The Pulse: Jan. 16, 2024

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

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  • -17°C: Periods of snow ending in the afternoon then cloudy. Amount 2 cm. Wind up to 15 km/h. Temperature falling to minus 21 in the afternoon. Wind chill minus 19 in the morning and minus 29 in the afternoon. Risk of frostbite. (forecast)
  • 7pm: The Edmonton Oilers (23-15-1) play the Toronto Maple Leafs (21-12-8) at Rogers Place. (details)

A group of people stand on the side of a road holding signs. One reads "Housing is a Human Right"; another reads "Shelters Are Not A Home."

The numbers and realities of Edmonton's shelter system

By Ashley Lavallee-Koenig and Colin Gallant and Stephanie Swensrude and Tim Querengesser

The question of whether Edmonton's homeless shelters can accommodate everyone who needs them is central to ongoing court battles over encampment evictions. It's also at the heart of political tensions between the city and the province, which continued to spill over as city council debated on Jan. 15 whether to declare an emergency on housing and homelessness. And the need for temporary relief is particularly acute with temperatures at -30C or colder.

The answer is complex. Here's a look at what we know about the supply of shelter space and the factors that affect demand.

Is there enough shelter space in Edmonton?

On Jan. 9, the province said there were more than 1,550 spaces available in Edmonton, which is still short of the 1,700 spaces that were to be available by Nov. 1.

"Funding for the 1,700 shelter spaces has flowed from the province to shelter operators," Jason Nixon, the minister responsible for housing and homelessness, told Taproot in a Jan. 5 email. "There are currently over 1,400 shelter spaces in Edmonton. Another couple hundred spaces will be opening early this year to reach 1,700 spaces. Our department watches shelter utilization numbers on a daily basis and if capacity becomes an issue, our government would take immediate action to make sure people are not turned away."

A Postmedia count of shelter spaces found the number stood at 1,429. Meanwhile, evidence of people unable to enter shelters has been extensively reported by Ricochet Media reporter Brandi Morin. Further, the Bissell Centre told CBC it had accommodated 187 people on Jan. 13 and 230 on Jan. 14, well above its capacity of 135 people.

When it comes to shelter demand, Homeward Trust Edmonton tracks the number of people experiencing homelessness through its Edmonton By Name List. Its list as of Jan. 6 pegged the city's homeless population at 3,051. Of that total, 1,733 people were provisionally accommodated, 519 were using shelters, 694 were unsheltered, and the status of 105 was unknown.

A City of Edmonton spokesperson told Taproot via email that Homeward Trust is "the system planner that coordinates responses to homelessness in Edmonton amongst all sector partners, including shelter operators." Part of that coordination is a data analytics page that tracks population demographics, numbers of people newly experiencing homelessness, and more. Until Jan. 9, Homeward Trust's data included a detailed breakdown of the available space in Edmonton's shelters. A Homeward Trust spokesperson said the agency only used data provided by the province on this page, and that the province asked the organization to take the shelter data down on Jan. 9.

At a press conference on Jan. 12 in Calgary, Nixon said the province took this action because Homeward Trust's numbers were "wrong." He added that this is not Homeward Trust's fault. "They don't have access to the entire shelter system, only the provincial government does, and certainly I think they've done their best," Nixon said. "We're trying to get those numbers up to date. But with the large amount of new shelters that came on, the numbers were off by hundreds of beds."

In an op-ed published on Jan. 15, Nixon said shelters in Edmonton "remain under capacity" and will not turn people away. "All shelters in Edmonton are operating 24/7, ensuring that everyone who needs a warm place to stay in the city has somewhere to go," he wrote. "Casting doubt on the availability of shelter spaces is dangerous, especially during periods of extreme cold, and we must not deter anyone from asking for a place to stay."

Homeward Trust told Taproot that it expects a reporting page "for all shelter information will be (made) available by (the Government of Alberta), and we will provide a link to it on our website as soon as it becomes available." As of Jan. 15, the province did not have a web page listing detailed shelter capacity for Edmonton. A spokesperson in Nixon's office told Taproot a reporting database is in development.

Continue reading

Headlines: Jan. 16, 2024

By Mariam Ibrahim

  • 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.
A title card that reads Taproot Edmonton Calendar:

Happenings: Jan. 16, 2024

By Debbi Serafinchon

Here are some events happening today in the Edmonton area.

And here are some upcoming events to keep in mind:

Visit the beta version of the Taproot Edmonton Calendar for many more events in the Edmonton region.