Alberta and Edmonton at odds over shelter funding

Alberta’s finance minister said more money to shelter vulnerable people from the cold might be coming, but not before February’s budget.

Travis Toews’ statement came Thursday afternoon as he and the United Conservative Party government announced a $12.3 billion provincial surplus.

This week Edmonton city councilors have made desperate pleas for more money for shelter spaces.

“Challenges are ahead, but we’re leaving no one behind,” Toews said to a question from CTV News Edmonton.

“Budget ’23 is coming right up, we’re already in deliberations, so this is a great opportunity to understand what more needs to be done.”

Some on Edmonton city council have been hounding the province to do more for months.

In October, Alberta announced 450 shelter spaces as part of a two-year, $187 million plan.

Fearing that won’t get the job done this winter, Edmonton council will vote next week on a plan to spend $7.5 million in city savings to add 200 new spaces inside what is now a west-end hotel.

“People are dying. This is a choice,” said Ward Nakota Isga Coun. Andrew Knack of the provincial responsibility to manage housing and homelessness.

“We cannot be a never-ending bankroll to address this systemic issue that is outside of our jurisdiction,” said Erin Rutherford, Ward Anirniq councilor.

The new city spaces would be located at the Bedfort Inn and Suites site, formerly the Howard Johnson, on Stony Plain Road and 155 Street.

If approved by council next week, it would include 150 mats and 59 private rooms.

It wouldn’t meet all of the city’s benchmarks, but would be open around the clock with security, overdose response, a health center and outreach services. The shelter would be operated in partnership with Tallcree First Nation.

The $7.5 million cost works out to roughly $36,000 per bed for six months, which is more than triple what the province typically pays for a single spot at a shelter like the Hope Mission.

“Some of (the higher cost) is the speed at which we want to move, some of it is the additional supports that move us closer to the minimum standard,” City Manager Andre Corbould explained.

Edmonton has roughly 1,072 provincially funded shelter beds, according to officials. Homeward Trust says 2,600 Edmontonians are currently experiencing homelessness and more than 1,250 are staying in shelters or sleeping outdoors.

On Wednesday, councillors on the city’s executive committee voted 5-0 to recommend opening the new shelter spaces. A final decision is expected next Wednesday.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Jeremy Thompson and Alex Antoneshyn

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