Mayor Sohi to put forward motion declaring housing, houselessness emergency Monday

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi is calling a special meeting for early next week, where he will put a motion forward to declare a housing and houselessness emergency in the City of Edmonton.

The Office of the Mayor issued a statement Thursday, saying the special meeting would be taking place on Monday, Jan. 15.

“Over the past three years, we have been building from an urgent issue to an emergency. The system is at a breaking point. That is why I have called a special meeting of City Council on January 15th where I will motion to declare a housing and houselessness emergency in the City of Edmonton,” said Sohi in a statement.

The mayor says he has heard that recent actions that have taken place at encampments might not be in line with the city’s plans for reconciliation.

He adds that officials have suggested important changes to the High Risk Encampment Response in their December meeting, and it’s unclear if more changes are still needed.

Sohi added that encampments are a “symptom of systemic issues,” stating “the number of unhoused people in Edmonton has doubled since 2019, and the number of people flowing into houselessness exceeds the capacity of our social system. This is causing a bottle-neck effect that increases the wait to get help through the Housing First program.”

If council approves the emergency motion, Sohi will reportedly invite Provincial Minister Jason Nixon, Federal Minister Sean Fraser, and Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 Cody Thomas to an emergency meeting so all levels of government can look to address the issue.

“Municipalities are the first line of response to encampments, but cannot meet the complex housing and public health crises growing in our communities alone. Without other levels of government coming to the table to do their part and invest in affordable housing with wrap-around services, Edmonton will continue seeing encampments and residents without housing,” said the Office of the Mayor in a statement.

Thursday evening, Deputy Premier Mike Ellis issued a response to Mayor Sohi’s statement, saying Premier Danielle Smith previously called an emergency meeting to address gang-related crime within encampments. This meeting occurred in November.

“Alberta’s government cares deeply about vulnerable Edmontonians and we will always ensure that anyone who wants shelter and supportive services will receive it. However, we will not stand by and watch as vulnerable Albertans and the general public continue to be extorted, taken advantage of, and killed by gangsters and deadly drugs,” said Ellis.

“The Edmonton Public Safety Cabinet Committee (EPSCC) is comprised of ministers from departments that oversee operations and/or administer programs that promote public safety and support the transition of Edmonton-based encampment residents into safe, secure, and appropriate arrangements.”

Ministers within the EPSCC are as follows:

  • Danielle Smith, Premier
  • Mickey Amery, Minister of Justice
  • Mike Ellis, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services
  • Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Health
  • Ric McIver, Minister of Municipal Affairs
  • Jason Nixon, Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services
  • Searle Turton, Minister of Children and Family Services
  • Dan Williams, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction
  • Rick Wilson, Minister of Indigenous Relations
  • Cody Thomas, Grand Chief, Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations
  • Dale McFee, Chief, Edmonton Police Service

Ellis added the EPSCC has continued to meet since Nov. 29, and is expected to respond to the issues following a court decision on Jan. 16.

“It is dangerous for the mayor and others to continue to suggest that vulnerable Albertans do not have anywhere to turn. This is false and will lead to more folks choosing not to seek out shelter because they fear they’ll be turned away. I have said before and will continue to say: there is safe space in shelters around the city and nobody will be turned away,” said Jason Nixon, Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services.

“We have more than enough room for every homeless person in the city of Edmonton to have a warm, safe place to stay. It is completely inappropriate and dangerous for the mayor, or anyone, to suggest Edmonton is out of capacity in our social services sector or our emergency shelter systems. Anyone needing shelter space will be kept care of.”

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