Pallet homes, trailers to soon open as emergency shelter spaces in Edmonton

Pallet homes and a trailer are expected to open any day now as additional emergency shelter spaces in Edmonton. Laura Krause looks into the need for the shelter spaces, and what makes these ones stand out.

Greg Gladue has been on-and-off experiencing homelessness for 10 years. He says he was always avoiding shelters as much as possible.

“It’s not a very safe place, a lot of those shelters,” he says. “You can’t really sleep, you’re in a shelter with other people. There’s people up all night that are stealing things from you or threatening you.”

But for the first time in a long time, he feels safe inside a shelter. He has been staying at an emergency shelter at the former Sands Hotel off Fort Road called Pimatsiwin.

“It’s not a cot on the floor, people are not asked to leave during the day, they can stay 24/7, it becomes like a temporary home for them, describes Cala Hills, the Site Manager. “Our space inside its three walls and a curtain, so they have some privacy, they have their own bed.”

Emergency shelter spaces to open soon in Edmonton. (Photo Credit: Laura Krause, CityNews)

“It’s supervised and people feel more safe in places like this. Otherwise, I’d still be out on the street if there weren’t places like this. I would only go to a shelter if it was -30 or something like that,” says Gladue.

The indoor shelter space is currently housing 34 people, but that number will be more than doubling soon. Outside Pimatsiwin is an oil field camp structure and four pallet homes.

The heat was turned on Thursday. The non-profit hopes to have the rooms filled as soon as Monday, just in time for an expected cold snap, and at a time when the city and police remove several high-risk encampments.

“I don’t think it’s realistic or fair to ask people that have nowhere to go, to move along. They have nowhere to move along to. Traditional shelters can be quite challenging for people with extensive trauma, and I just think it doesn’t always work and they’re full. There’s nowhere for folks to go, typically they just got around the corner and set up their tent there, and we have the same issue again in a few days. There is no solution right now, it’s not working, so we need more spaces for people to live, to feel safe, to feel supported, and to feel cared for,” says Hills.

“Everything had to be expedited, so we’ve been working so hard this past month to get these open before the cold weather sets in and it seems like it’s working out the way it’s supposed to,” says Keri Cardinal, the CEO for Niginan Housing Ventures.

The waitlist for a spot is already at 300 people. Cardinal says they simply don’t have enough space to open anymore. “If we had space, we would definitely have more shelter spaces open. Right now, we’re in the process of looking for space, Cardinal explains. “We do have extra funding available to us, we just don’t have the shelter space.”

According to Homeward Trust, 3,043 people in Edmonton are experiencing homelessness (As of December 16, 2023).

Emergency shelter spaces to open soon in Edmonton. (Photo Credit: Laura Krause, CityNews)

Pimatsiwin also offers permanent supportive housing, which just opened last week. Five residents have moved in, and Niginan Housing Ventures says they will continue to move in about one person each day until it is full. When fully operational, Pimatsiwin will have 110 permanent spaces, and 53 temporary spaces available.

In the few months Gladue has called Pimatsiwin his home, he says it’s changed his life. “I had nothing like six months ago. I’m getting back on my feet.”

As of Jan. 4, the following spaces were available:

  • Old Tavern: 34 Indigenous Led Emergency Shelter Spaces (these are three walls, one curtain with a bed)
  • Tower: 54 Perm Supportive Housing Spaces
  • Oil Camp: 49 Temporary Indigenous Led Emergency Shelter Spaces until April 2024 (will be opening soon – just had the power turned on Jan. 4)
  • Pallet Homes: Four and the same as above.

Meanwhile, the province says funding for 1,400 of 1,700 shelter spaces has made it to operators, with the remaining spaces expected to open this year.

“These spaces are safe and follow shelter standards that relate to health and safety and general shelter operations. This includes access to shelter, client information, information and referral services, and infection and disease control. These standards are reviewed and renewed annually. Last year, updates to the standards were made to align with a housing focused and recovery oriented approach to shelter service delivery,” said the province in a statement.

Just down the road, near the Belvedere LRT station, emergency shelters are being set up in these trailers by another organization. These spaces will provide 24/7 accommodations and support for up to 100 homeless women. It is unclear at this time when they will open.

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