A community’s well-being is only as robust as that of its most vulnerable residents. Though we have made progress on meeting vulnerable Edmontonians’ needs and wellness, much work remains. Yesterday, we marked the Alberta government’s new investments to help improve facilities and support services for Edmonton’s homeless.
Almost a decade ago (2009), the Province and City agreed to a goal of ending homelessness in 10 years. Together, we have made progress toward this goal and the number of people experiencing homelessness is now half what it was at the peak. In fact, since 2009, using a Housing First approach, more than 5,900 Edmontonians have been housed. But more than 1,700 Edmontonians are still experiencing homelessness and, among them, more than a thousand individuals have complex needs for whom our society has yet to adequately address. We must do better.
I believe it is time to refocus our efforts on wellness: wellness for vulnerable individuals, and the wellness of our communities who face the strain of managing complex populations. That’s why we recently passed a motion calling for a Wellness Plan to help guide program and infrastructure investments to make sure that the money we receive is used to serve vulnerable people and communities in the most effective way possible.
Council will get the terms of reference for this Wellness Plan soon, but here are some of the questions I think we need to ask leaders when they bring forward new ideas for initiatives or projects aimed at supporting vulnerable Edmontonians:
-Does your idea help break cycles of poverty, addiction and homelessness rather than simply continue to manage them?
-Does your idea reduce social disorder and crime?
-Is the approach evidence-based?
-Are you partnering in creative ways to leverage scarce resources?
-Have you communicated with your community (residents, business) so that its members understand the rationale for your idea?
-And, does your idea offer a pathway to supportive housing?
That’s the logic. If governments, community and agencies can all agree to this shared logic for our approach, we can reduce social disorder and lower crime for communities, deliver better health and justice outcomes for vulnerable people, and refresh our drive toward ending homelessness.
To that end, I remain a steadfast advocate for supportive housing, with wraparound services, to help people with complex health issues stay housed. Any effective wellness plan must have pathways to more supportive housing as a core premise. All the evidence for supportive housing points to better health outcomes and better justice outcomes, which will save taxpayers money. Building a better future for vulnerable communities and individuals is why this work is so important.
The funding announced yesterday for Boyle Street Community Services to develop a business case for redevelopment, and to partner in innovative ways, could produce a business case very well aligned with the broader Wellness Plan.
Ultimately, I have to reiterate that we still need substantial investments in supportive housing to flow from the province and Ottawa. Together we need to lessen the burden on shelters and provide a safe home for homeless individuals with complex needs. I do have hope because I believe we are united, across all orders of government, to end homelessness and support wellness in vulnerable communities and for vulnerable people.