Homelessness task force framework in the works

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Over the next three months, the city will build the bones of a task force to address homelessness within St. Albert.

Councillors voted unanimously on Monday to have city staff draw up a framework for the task force, which would sit on an ad-hoc basis.

The framework will include a terms of reference, proposed membership and whether the task force will need staff or budget dollars to achieve its goal.

Mayor Cathy Heron, who pledged to address homelessness when she was sworn-in in October, put the motion forward.

“We are still at a time we can look at ending homelessness, because our numbers are not unmanageable at this time,” she said.

She described her vision for the task force as a “high-level think tank,” with some members having the political clout to achieve goals in reducing and preventing homelessness in St. Albert.

“What we need is influential people with contacts,” she said.

She wants to see the task force increase public awareness about homelessness within St. Albert. Affordable housing and support services are also needed, she said.

While all councillors supported the motion, Coun. Natalie Joly said she expects to be “really, really tough” on the proposed framework once it comes back to council at the end of the first quarter of 2018.

“I’ll probably be going over those terms of reference with a fine-tooth comb. This is something that’s very dear to my heart,” she said.

Joly has previously described in council how her father was homeless before he passed away. On Monday, she said her brother has also experienced homelessness.

“I think we need to be really careful about saying things (like) ‘we need the right people on this committee that have the right clout,'” she said.

“As soon as you get people who have never experienced homelessness, who don’t have experience with homelessness, telling homeless people what they need to do to get out of their situations, I think it can be quite dangerous.”

Coun. Wes Brodhead said tackling homelessness may be more a journey than a destination but he wants council to tackle the problem.

“Sometimes, (we) need to challenge ourselves to address some of the larger social issues in our community, and short of that challenge, response is not as robust as it could be,” he said.

Coun. Jacquie Hansen said she believes the framework is important and aligns with the city’s social master plan.

“I am pleased we are moving in this direction,” she said.

Coun. Sheena Hughes said while she supported the motion she wished Heron had raised the issue of homelessness during the municipal election campaign so the council could have a better idea of how much money the public is willing to spend on the issue.

She added regional co-operation would serve the task force well as St. Albert is “not an island” and efforts to address homelessness could draw people from the region who are homeless to the city.

“This needs to be a regional issue about how you’re going to co-ordinate services across the board,” she said.

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April Hudson

April is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette