It’s not every day that the mayors of Edmonton and Calgary heap praise on Premier Jason Kenney and the UCP government. It’s also unheard-of for the leaders of Alberta’s two largest cities to hail provincial funding that appears to favour one at the expense of the other.
But there we were on Saturday after the government committed almost $200 million to the ongoing fight against homelessness and addiction in the province. Both Amarjeet Sohi and Jyoti Gondek not only lauded the province for generosity and teamwork but the mayor of Calgary acknowledged the larger piece of the pie should go to Edmonton.
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“This needed funding will make life better for the many Edmontonians struggling with houselessness, substance use disorder, mental health crises, poverty and intergenerational trauma, and is a true testament of the power of collaboration,” Sohi tweeted. “Today is a good day for our city.”
Said Gondek, “I think it’s important to recognize that there was a historic inequity in funding between Calgary and Edmonton and what the government has attempted to do now is to fix that.”
The mayors’ reaction speaks to the significance of the $187 million in new funding towards fighting homelessness across the province and addiction issues in its two largest cities. Of that, $63 million will go to reduce homelessness and $124 million will go towards fighting the addiction crisis in Calgary and Edmonton, both investments spread over the next two years.
The plan will see provincially funded shelters operate 24/7 and introduce a pilot of a “service-hub” model for shelters in Calgary and Edmonton. The province says such a model will “connect clients directly with supports and services such as recovery, housing and emergency financial support.”
Kenney’s announcement also puts right a disparity where Edmonton receives support for 634 permanently funded emergency shelter spaces compared to 1,758 spaces in Calgary. While the province earmarked $9 million to fund new shelter spaces, none will be in Calgary. Provincial officials said Calgary has long had higher levels of provincial investment for homelessness than Edmonton and the number of shelter spaces has lagged as the homeless population in this city grew.
For the addictions side, the province says $65 million will go towards “recovery communities” in Alberta’s two largest cities that will offer long-term treatment.
The homelessness funding comes through the province’s new Homelessness Action Plan, based on a report by the Co-ordinated Community Response to Homelessness Task Force the province established last year. “We need to change the paradigm so people can access services they need to bridge the gap to recovery,” said Premier Kenney.
It’s little wonder that Sohi and Gondek are elated; the new money should go a long way in helping those living on the streets and/or coping with addictions. The initiatives are also expected to reduce the crime and social disorder affecting both cities.
The plan isn’t perfect. The funding only covers winter shelters and does not create any new permanent shelters, as had been sought by Edmonton officials and there’s no mention of operational funding for supportive housing that the city has built or is building. On the addictions side, the province continues to focus on recovery at the expense of immediate harm-reduction services.
Still, this new approach is heading in the right direction, and it’s one that the new premier should build upon.
Local editorials are the consensus opinion of the Journal’s editorial board, comprising Colin McGarrigle, Dave Breakenridge, Craig Gilbert and Bill Mah.
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