Coming together for the housing emergency: Chamber of Commerce Recap

It was really promising to see the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce pull together a sold-out room today of community and business leaders around a "housing first" strategy, building on the best-practices already demonstrated by Murray Soroka (Jasper Place Wellness Centre) and Bridge Healing creator Dr. Louis Francescutti. I want to share a few highlights...

It was really promising to see the Chamber of Commerce leadership pull together a sold-out room today of community and business leaders around a "housing first" strategy and building on the best-practices already demonstrated by Murray Soroka (Jasper Place Wellness Centre) and Bridge Healing creator Dr. Louis Francescutti. I want to share a few highlights...

I've been to a number of these sorts of events in my time, but a number of folks commented that this one was different. This sold-out event hosted by the Chamber was focused on a specific solution: building more housing. solutions going forward. Not complaining about how we got here or rediagnozing the myriad of complex factors. We were brought in with a couple of specific presentations and a call to action. I credit the new CEO Doug Griffiths for this.

First, Murray Soroka, the founder of Jasper Place Wellness Centre has worked tirelessly to move thousands of disadvantaged Edmontonians off the streets and into housing.  His current housing model includes achievable targets, but requires multiple sectors, including Edmonton business to engage in meaningful planning, co-operation and most importantly, concrete action. 

He highlighted a small-home, missing-middle-style small model, already in place in four locations with a few key features:

  • Can fit on any city residential lot. 33, 40, or 50ft.
  • Three story with 12 private units. Each unit is self contained, bathroom, bed, table, cupboards, counter fridge and cooktop.
  • Common kitchen and laundry, common living room, community spaces. Fully accessible for folks with mobility challenges (which many have) with a "made in Edmonton Lift" (more affordable than conventional elevators!)
  • At $150K/door or $1.8 Million built cost per apartment (land separate) they have made them very cost-efficient. For context, that's about the annual cost of keeping a person in jail for a year.
  • With heat pumps, air conditioning, they are resilient for heat waves and save on energy bills.
  • Depending on the acuity of the residents, help can be provided to folks, or they can live independently.
  • READ MORE: Informed Building Design: https://www.jpwc.ca/team-3 

We know the model works. We just need to scale up and out.

We have the land (the city can contribute) and we have the financing (CMHC). It was suggested that the business community would work with the provincial government to provide matching funding to get these units up and running.

I believe it was shared that there are approximately 3000 unhoused who can't afford more than $500 in rent a month. There are approximately 10,000 who can't afford more than $1100 a month.

As someone with extensive co-living experiences in my life, (Residence Life at university, a brief stay in a San Francisco Commune, and now a housing cooperative among others), I agree with Murray about the small-scale model that promotes a sense of community and avoids overwhelm. If this building was built on your block, you may not even notice.

Loneliness kills. We need treatment not trauma.

Following Murray, Bridge Healing creator Dr. Louis Francescutti, provided details about why the housing first model works, why this kind of unit is the right size and scope, and why he's already seeing results from the Bridge Healing Centre funded by City Council, reducing health care costs and preventing the "Treat'm and street'm" discharge into homelessness from Emergency rooms (https://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/new-edmonton-housing-to-provide-bridge-healing-for-homeless-patients-discharged-from-er). We know that Edmonton has many more folks who arrive here for health care, and then end up on the street. I see them in my neighbourhood.

Dr. Louis was asked about mental health issues and other folks "not ready to be housed" and he shared that for a lot of folks stable housing can prevent psychosis, can provide a safe place to sleep and heal, and can help mitigate many of the other traumas, physical, social and otherwise that are exacerbated by the street. I know folks who told me that they turned to Meth because they had nowhere to safely sleep and would rather be on a stimulant to avoid being robbed or sexual assaulted or worse. Stability is a salve; instability a liability.

Multiple first-hand accounts talked about why people crave belonging and community wherever they are, and these four apartments are already providing a sense of stability and community. Murray and Louis shared anecdotes about residents checking in and looking out for one another to make sure that folks are seeing their doctor, taking their medicine, and providing a "chosen family".

Housing is healthcare.

One of the books I gift most often is "Homelessness is a Housing Problem" which I've written about prior (www.michaeljanz.ca/housing) We know that "Higher Rents Mean More Tents" and that action is needed across the housing spectrum to provided choices and dramatically increase supply. As far as a model who works with the highest needs individual and keeps them off the street? This is a very good one.

Now we need to Marshall the financial resources. It was suggested that the business community would approach the province for the matching funds, and potentially, they could be the nautical ice breaker and help achieve our common vision of an Edmonton for EVERYONE.

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