A very sombre memorial took place in Edmonton last week. The ceremony commemorated the 47 homeless people who died on the streets of Alberta's capital city last year.
For many Canadians, the City of Edmonton represents the wealth and status a resource-rich province like Alberta can provide. Yet the reality for the City's estimated 3000 homeless people is one of abject poverty, mental illness and addiction.
Laura Drake, a writer for the Edmonton Journal chronicled the lives of those 47 lost souls this week in a feature column highlighting the plight of Canada's urban homeless population. She interviewed Allie Decorte, a woman who has lived on the streets of Edmonton for almost 4 years now.
"A lot of times they say it's an overdose, but it's often by their own hand. Sometimes, it's just too much," states Decorte.
Mayor Mandel has publicly committed to ending homelessness in Edmonton by 2017. That date surely seems a long way away for the homeless living on the cold streets of this northern prairie city.
Back in 1999, a report entitled Homelessness in Edmonton: A Call to Action was released to the public. The report had a number of interesting findings including:
- There were a total of 836 homeless people living on the streets as of March 1999. A total of 313 people were living in absolute homelessness, while 523 were considered "sheltered homeless".
- 112 children were included in the tally of homeless
- Task force members recognized that more emergency shelter spaces are not a lasting solution to homelessness; low-cost affordable housing and associated support are what will make a difference.
A series of excellent recommendations were outlined in the report. Had they all been implemented over the last 10 years, I doubt that 200 people would have gathered at the Boyle Street Community Centre last Saturday to recognize the death of 47 homeless people.
Yet despite the best of intentions in 1999, ten years later, the growth of Edmonton's homeless population is growing unabated. This is particularly disturbing when you realize the homeless population includes a disproportionately large share of Aboriginals, as well as families with children, youth, single women, mentally ill persons and seniors.
So when I hear civic politicians claim they are going to end homelessness ten years from now, it's hard not to be cynical when so little was done over the last decade. Sadly, most of today's elected leaders will have moved on in ten years, and won't be around to account for their failure to address this problem.