Edmonton’s homeless population at higher risk of physical, mental health challenges: report

A new report suggests those experiencing homelessness in Edmonton are at greater risk of facing health challenges. As Laura Krause reports, stable housing could be the solution.

At a time when the Alberta health-care system is overwhelmed, a new report suggests those experiencing homelessness in Edmonton are at greater risk of facing physical and mental-health challenges.

Edmonton City Council’s public service committee received the report from Alberta Health Services (AHS).

Dr. Chris Sikora, AHS’ lead medical officer of health for the Edmonton zone, says a study found homeless people in Edmonton made nearly 6,000 visits to the ER in 2019-2020.

The leading causes were poisonings, violence, falls, environmental factors – especially the cold – and suicide.

Sikora says about 4 per cent of people showing up to emergency rooms with traumatic injuries were homeless.

The report says those experiencing homelessness may face physical health problems such as infectious diseases, chronic diseases, injuries, or exposure (frostbite, hypothermia) or mental-health problems such as alcohol and drug dependence, personality disorders.

Sikora says housing is part of the solution, saying there is a 58 per cennt decrease in the number of inpatient admissions once someone is housed.

“When individuals are stably housed, they require less resources, less emergency department resources, less acute care inpatient resources,” he said. “Getting individuals stably housed is cost savings for a healthcare system.

“The role for health-care services is to be able to enable that system integration, to be able to enable support for individuals and those components that are going to be necessary for an individual to be ultimately successful in their health journey.”


The report says the average life expectancy of a homeless person in Canada is estimated to be 39 years. Meanwhile the life expectancy of the average Albertan is 81.5 years.

As of Monday, there were more than 2,800 homeless people in Edmonton. More than one-quarter of them are sleeping outdoors, according to Homeward Trust.

“I would love to see more stable housing because we know that that actually has a really big impact on health,” said Selene Tash, the executive director of community health services for the Edmonton zone.

“And when people are stably housed we know that they are more stabilized from a health point of view, but we can also reach them, and we can also reach into those communities to provide services.”

WATCH: Surviving extreme cold in Edmonton encampments

Coun. Keren Tang says there has been a disproportionate amount of attention on the public safety aspect of homelessness and wants to centre conversations around the public health issues.

“I think for the past year and a half we have been putting disproportionate attention on the public safety aspect of it, criminalizing homelessness, and poverty even. And I think that shifts the conversation around which solutions are appropriate,” she said. “We need to keep working on shifting those narratives about this issue as a health issue, as a social issue.

“And how do we create belonging, how do we create connections at a neighborhood level so we can provide the best service, best program, best support that is needed so people can thrive, stay housed, and move away from some of the challenges they are facing.”

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