Edmonton city council declared a housing and houselessness emergency, in a special council meeting spanning two days. It came less than a week after city crews, backed by police, dismantled an eighth core-area homeless encampment labeled “high risk” by those organizations in approximately -20°C conditions.
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi called the meeting, stating that at one point he, like many low-income Edmontonians today, was once at risk of homelessness.
“I could have ended up on the street. The community was there to support me, lift me up, and the community every day lifts each other up,” Sohi said.
The declaration passed, with four councillors voting against specifically the declaration portion of the motion, including Sarah Hamilton, Tim Cartmell, Aaron Paquette, and Karen Principe.
“If the declaration itself resulted in meaningful action, then I would support it. However, it does not. It’s just words,” Coun. Principe said.
Paquette’s concern was the declaration would set up the council to meet unrealistic expectations from the public.
“We already know what’s at stake, and if we declare this, we are making a promise. We’re making a promise that as a municipality we’re going to fix this. That’s not a promise we can keep. We don’t have the power; we don’t have the authority; we don’t have the budget; and that’s the frustrating position that we are in,” Coun. Paquette said.
The rest of Sohi’s motion was carried unanimously, including the creation of a $3.5 million housing and houselessness task force.
The emergency declaration calls for the city to ask for a meeting with federal and provincial minsters, along with Indigenous leaders from the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations.
The first portion of the meeting, held Monday was repeatedly derailed by outburst and jeers from a full gallery, with Coun. Paquette, acting as chair, threatening a number of times to have members of the public removed for their outbursts.