Edmonton lauded for anti-homelessness efforts

A non-profit organization has called the progress Edmonton has made to end homelessness an inspiration.

The National Conference on Ending Homelessness kicked off on Monday at the Edmonton Convention Centre, bringing more than 1,500 front-line workers and community leaders together.

"Edmonton was selected as the host city this year because its leadership and success in reducing homelessness provides a model and inspiration for communities across Canada," said the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, the conference host.

Since 2008, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton has dropped by almost half, from about 3,000 to 1,600, according to Homeward Trust.

Christel Kjenner, the city's director of housing and homelessness, said that local agencies have taken a coordinated approach to the issue.

"One thing that makes Edmonton's strategy unique is just the sheer degree of commitment we have from city council with respect to issues around homelessness and affordable housing," Kjenner said. "Collaboration is really key. And so ... if you can align the political support of your mayor and council with administration and the community-based organizations like Homeward Trust and social agencies, that really is the recipe for success when it comes to making an impact on the ground."

However, with 1,607 Edmontonians still homeless, much progress can still be made. Kjenner said that a key hurdle the city has to overcome is increasing the supply of permanent supportive housing – affordable housing with on-site health and social supports.

Susan McGee, Homeward Trust Edmonton CEO, said that supportive housing is a major focus of the city’s 10-year plan to end homelessness, released in 2009. The city hopes to develop 900 supportive-housing units over the next few years, according to CBC News.

"Some of the goals in the plan very clearly state that we need permanent supportive housing that is designed to support people with more complex support needs. And we just don't have that product," McGee said. "The need for permanent supportive housing is pretty critical if we're going to be successful."

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