Bridge housing on its way, city says, as convention shelter opening nears

EDMONTON — The city says it will soon have temporary homes for residents of the Peace and Pekiwewan camps.

The city is working with Boyle Street to provide the bridge housing for those who need simply need a warm place to sleep.

Those with greater needs, like addictions or mental illness treatment, will be directed to other places where they can find wrap-around services, the city says.

Organizers at Peace Camp in Light Horse Park say they’ve talked to city and community agencies about the transition, following an earlier announcement the camp would disband by Oct. 18.

“We’re hoping to trust the government to do their three-phase strategy, which is put people in the shelters, then put people in the hotels, and then apartments,” said volunteer Kevin Bell.

“But we can no longer house people outside like this. It’s no longer safe.”

The bridge housing is being funded by a $688,000 grant from the COVID-19 Community Response Fund for Vulnerable Populations via the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and a donation by the Canadian Medical Association Foundation.

Meanwhile, work continues to prepare the Edmonton Convention Centre as a temporary pandemic shelter, set to open Oct. 30.

“The pandemic accommodation at the conference centre is to give us time to muster the response from all orders of government and society that (Camp Pekiwewan organizers) have been demanding from the city,” Mayor Don Iveson told media on Thursday.

He said he heard directly from people living at the camp it was what they needed most.

There are an estimated 2,000 homeless people in Edmonton currently, about 600 of whom have been sleeping outside.

“This (camp) and the one in Strathcona have made quite visible a problem and issue that we have been trying to solve for a long time now, and the conditions now finally seem right to resolve it,” Iveson commented.

The convention centre will have room for 300 people overnight and 450 people during the day.

Officials said the program would build capacity week by week as needed.

Bridge housing is also being offered at the Coliseum Inn, and in the future, the old jockey dorms on Edmonton’s former exhibition lands.

Administration said it was exploring other opportunities, too, including potentially the Commonwealth Stadium. According to interim city manager Adam Laughlin, there is also an application before the city to use a warehouse on the south side of the city as temporary shelter accommodation.

While Peace Camp organizers say campers will be gone from Light Horse Park by Oct. 18, the city says it is working on a closure date for Camp Pekiwewan with organizers there.

Laughlin called it tough to set an exact date before the convention centre is operating as a pandemic shelter, but said the expectation is for campers to clear out when it opened.

“If we continue to see folks beyond that date, we’re going to have to take enforcement actions,” Laughlin said.

“That’s something that we don’t want to do, but if we can provide the space and the supports that are need for folks that are in these camps, then that’s what we’re going to do and hopefully have a smooth transition with that.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Nicole Weisberg 

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