Homeless numbers growing in St. Albert
| Posted: Wednesday, Sep 26, 2012 06:00 am
For a number of years, back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, there was a running joke that St. Albert had only one homeless person. His name was Louis. He could occasionally be seen wandering downtown looking for empty bottles and cans and other treasures the rest of us would simply discard.
But the joking stopped when St. Albertans realized two things:
1. Homelessness is no laughing matter, for anyone; and
2. Louis was no longer the city’s only homeless person
This summer a number of homeless persons – male and female – could often be seen wandering around the city – downtown and other areas – collecting empty bottles and cans, searching through the waste containers looking for anything they thought salvable.
And just like in the big cities, some were pushing grocery carts, filled with green garbage bags of stuff. Several could be found hanging around the parkade behind Grandin Mall, perhaps even sleeping there. Some of those lucky enough to have jobs were sleeping in their cars.
The City of St. Albert’s website notes that in 2011 the St. Albert Food Bank and Community Village was supporting 35 homeless individuals, a number the site says has increased steadily from five homeless people in 2007.
Homelessness across Alberta exploded in the 1990s and by the turn of the century it had become a major issue, especially in the larger cities. By 2008 a one-day count found Edmonton had an estimated 3,100 homeless and Calgary about 4,000.
The provincial government figured that without a serious effort to change the situation Alberta could have more than 20,000 homeless within a decade. So the province introduced a 10-year plan the government estimated would cost $3.3 billion.
Even that, however, would be less than the cost of maintaining the status quo since estimates put the cost of a homeless person at more than $100,000 a year just in health care, judicial and correctional resources.
In St. Albert the food bank and community village feeds the homeless and works with the affordable housing society and other agencies to help as best they can. Food bank executive director Suzan Krecsy says the current number isn’t putting a financial strain on the organization. The biggest problem is finding affordable and appropriate housing.
St. Albert is somewhat of an anomaly in that most of the homeless are only here for the summer and move to Edmonton for the winter to take advantage of the shelters. Most of them are likely St. Albert residents who have lost their housing through mental health or addictions and the only place they can find winter shelter is Edmonton.
St. Albert isn’t known for its affordable housing but even when that issue, or rental assistance is discussed, the homeless are often not included.
Linda Knoblach of Family and Community Support Services, told council this summer there are “support services through the community village but those are minimal services with no formal support.”
Krecsy knows of no St. Albert programs directed at the homeless, which is somewhat surprising given that in his last election campaign Mayor Nolan Crouse listed homelessness as a priority, ending it by 2013. That’s definitely one priority that won’t be fulfilled.
Indeed, there are individuals doing more than the city when it comes to trying to end homelessness.
Krecsy says there is one woman who has helped 38 kids over the last couple of years to transition off the street into post-secondary education or to employment. Now there are a couple more moms doing the same things.
But they’re doing it without the required support. They’re fabulous people and doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, spending their own money, but they are also putting themselves at risk.
That should not be their responsibility.