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Local agencies interested in youth transitional housing facility

Proposals, including cost estimates, will be presented to council this summer

Local service providers have expressed interest in partnering with the City of St. Albert on a youth transitional housing facility, administration told council last week.

The revelation came after council received on May 14 the “Phase 1” report from the Youth Transitional Housing Feasibility Study, which council budgeted $132,000 for last year. The first phase of the study re-confirmed the need for such a facility in St. Albert after it was initially recommended by the Mayor's Task Force to End Homelessness in 2018.

A transitional housing facility, such as the John Howard Society's Donnelly House in Edmonton, provides individuals in need with a temporary place to stay while they attain social supports and permanent housing. 

READ MORE: St. Albert task force calls for youth transition home

Phase 2 of the study will include several proposals for what the city could do to assist in establishing a transitional housing facility for youth aged 15-24 in St. Albert, including cost estimates and possible locations. This phase is expected to be finished by the end of June, and presented to council's standing committee of the whole shortly afterward.

Numerous service gaps

According to the study's Phase 1 report, nobody is quite sure exactly how many local youth are homeless, as “estimates range from less than a dozen to over 30 individuals,” although a city spokesperson told the Gazette in March of 2023 the city's Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) team knew of 44 homeless residents under the age of 25 at the time.

“At the time this assessment was undertaken [in November, 2023] there were St. Albert youth actively experiencing [multiple] types of homelessness, including young adults camped on the outskirts of the community in cold weather, school-age youth looking for emergency shelter for the night, and youth living in crisis and transitional housing in Edmonton,” the report reads. “There are few youth-specific housing supports in the city of St. Albert beyond foster care placements facilitated through Children and Family Services for youth under 18 years of age.”

“Without local housing supports, youth experiencing homelessness or housing precarity must choose to either live in unsafe or unstable situations or relocate to Edmonton to access housing at times of crisis or critical junctures such as aging out of foster care.”

Although this phase of the study was merely to reconfirm the need for a local youth transitional housing facility, the report's authors — consultants from Cityspaces Consulting and Covenant House Vancouver — recommended other types of housing supports to address the gap in services for at-risk youth and adults, namely “crisis beds” or short-term shelter options.

“Like youth, adults experiencing homelessness must either remain homeless, stay in unsafe conditions, or access housing supports outside the community,” the report explains. “Nearby crisis housing in Edmonton and Morinville operates at capacity.”

“St. Albert Food Bank and Community Village routinely coordinates for locals in need of emergency housing to stay in motels on an ad hoc basis.”

RELATED: Food bank sheltered 14 people during January cold stretch

Another service gap identified in the report is that local youth-serving social agencies, such as the food bank and FCSS, could benefit from enhanced “shelter diversion strategies,” as well as places to actually divert youth to.

“Shelter diversion strategies seek to reduce the number of youth staying in shelters by providing information and systems navigation, enhancing natural supports and family reunification, and offering referrals for mental health and substance use support,” the report reads.

To that end, the report's authors recommend the creation of a youth hub, such as The Bridge Wellness Hub for Youth in Fort Saskatchewan, which serves youth 11-24 by providing access to counselling, support groups, as well as a drop-in space for youth to simply be.

Fort Saskatchewan's youth hub, and nine similar facilities throughout Alberta, were established through provincial funding and oversight from the Canadian Mental Health Association. A similar facility for St. Albert has been in the planning stages since the fall of 2021, and the local Youth Mental Health Hub Steering Committee chair, Mark Dixon, said in an email an update on the project will be given to the Gazette later this month.

This possible hub was not mentioned in the report or during council's discussion on May 14.

The recommendation for enhanced shelter diversion strategies stems from youth-serving professionals saying in interviews and focus groups that youth often go to Edmonton when they need emergency housing, the report says.

“Many of those youth never return to St. Albert,” the report states. “This situation represents a significant opportunity to connect youth and families with resources in St. Albert to keep youth within the community where they have more natural supports and connection.”

Those interviews also included a recognition that all social services in St. Albert are limited to regular business hours, with few supports available on weekends and evenings.

“It is understood that most at-risk youth are not being connected with the services they need because of barriers inherent in the current service delivery methods.”

Council looking ahead

City council had a limited discussion about the Phase 1 report on May 14, with most members of council, as well as Mayor Cathy Heron, saying they want to see Phase 2 as soon as possible.

“It is such a disturbing conversation that we have to have,” Coun. Wes Brodhead said. “I'm looking forward to Phase 2.”

Heron said she thought the report affirmed “everything we talked about at the task force.”

“I have regional mayor colleagues who know that were looking at this and waiting to see if we fill the youth gap that might be in the region,” she said.

“I'm excited to get to phase two as fast as we can.”

Both Coun. Sheena Hughes and Coun. Ken MacKay asked about the recommendation of creating a youth hub, specifically if the idea is for the city to establish one, but community strategy manager Connie Smigielski said no, and the expectation is that a social agency would create one.

“We did something similar or the intention was to do something similar [to a youth hub] with The Collective, but then that dissolved,” Hughes said.

The Collective was a city-run space for youth that offered services like counselling and support services navigation, as well entrepreneurial opportunities. It was located on St. Thomas Street and was open from 2016 to early 2020 before the city closed it and moved staff to Beaudry Place.

“We've already tried this before, so I'm trying to figure out what the lessons learned are, and how we can do it differently and successfully,” Hughes said.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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