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Alberta navigation centre to help Edmonton homeless now permanent; one more planned

EDMONTON — The Alberta government is making a navigation and support centre to provide safe shelter for the homeless in Edmonton permanent and has announced plans for a similar facility to be created in Calgary.

The UCP government announced it was setting up the centre in mid-January, largely to deal with the hundreds of homeless people displaced after Edmonton police dismantled eight encampments deemed by the city to be high risk.

Over the past two months, staff at the facility have offered a range of supports, including mental-health and addiction treatment, primary health care and income support. 

The facility has also provided Indigenous cultural supports and liaisons, and connected people to shelter, housing and financial services, as well as helped them obtain valid Alberta identification. 

“We’ve seen dozens of homeless encampments spring up in marginal spaces and on city streets … all over our provincial capital. But this isn’t just an Edmonton issue,” Premier Danielle Smith said Tuesday.

“The rising cost of living, a lethal addiction crisis and a decreased housing supply have all contributed to a major increase in homeless encampments in recent years.”

Smith said people have died in fires and from drug overdoses. She said others have been assaulted, sexually abused, robbed and exploited, and some encampments are controlled by criminal gangs.

Alberta Social Services Minister Jason Nixon said over the past two months, the navigation centre model has exceeded expectations. He said more than 700 people have accessed its services, resulting in more than 2,200 referrals to services such as housing, health supports, addiction recovery and Indigenous support.

“We will be expanding this concept into Calgary to help address the needs of the homeless population in that city. Conversations are ongoing between Alberta’s government, officials in the City of Calgary and our partners,” Nixon said.

Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee said since the dismantling of the camps and setting up the navigation centre, the encampments are smaller, fewer in number and less dispersed throughout the city.

“There have been no fatal tent fires. No overdose deaths in encampments. Edmontonians have not been burning or freezing to death in tents,” McFee said.

“Instead they’re getting mental-health, addiction treatment, housing, cultural supports. All of the solutions long needed for long-term success.”

McFee said it’s also worth noting that calls for police service in identified encampment areas have dropped by nine per cent.

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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