Friday, September 11, 2009

Calgary vs. Edmonton

September 11 2009
First a moment to acknowledge the sad anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Centre and all the innocent people who lost their lives.

Yesterday I reposted the blog from my first day in Edmonton. Everyone knows that Alberta enjoys and ongoing rivalry between Edmonton and Calgary. I have to say when it comes to managing the homeless population Calgary should be taking lessons from Edmonton. For those of you who want to say that Calgary's homeless population is so much larger then Edmonton's, I will suggest that is because Edmonton is employing realistic solutions to homelessness. To begin with an agency called E4C manages several small apartment blocks 12 - 20 units each in the Boyle/MacCauly area. These apartments provide supported housing (each building has a nurses office) for elderly and handicapped (pretty much anyone who qualifies for AISH). The housing appears to be subsidized at about 30% of income, this leaves sufficient funds for people to buy groceries, clothing , etc, which reduces the strain on shelter services. This reduces the homeless population by approximately 15-20%.
Boyle Street is what we used to call skid-row. It is home to cheap hotels, street missions, bars, churches and oddly enough a big new police station and fire station. On Boyle Street if you see the police talking to a homeless guy they are probably asking how he is doing, or how he likes the hot weather. One afternoon I saw two young girls from the street population sitting on the steps of the cop shop having a smoke. No one told them to move along, the officers just walked around them. Basically the attitude of the Edmonton Police services is live and let live with regard to the homeless and street population. The Police intercede only when "laws" are broken, assaults, disorderly (disruptive) conduct etc. This approach to handling the homeless has garnered the respect of the population. I suspect that in a serious situation the Edmonton police would enjoy a higher level of cooperation then Calgary police. The Calgary police services devote much energy rousting, hassling and harassing the homeless which has resulted in an Us vs. Them mentality. In Edmonton I observed homeless people relaxing in the park, even lounging at a table in the city hall lobby. Bylaw officers patrol the park and city hall and the downtown core. They ticket anyone for overt breeches... open containers, skate boarding; I have witnessed tickets being handed out to both homeless and the general public. I have spent many happy hours in that park, just watching people and making my dream catchers. Bylaw officers in Calgary seem to be mandated to ticket homeless or anyone who appears to be homeless. There is no safe zone like Boyle street in Calgary. Before I left on this campaign to educate myself and the general pubic on the realities of homelessness in Canada, I witnessed Calgary Police in action. I have seen them come onto D.I. property, threatening, cursing and trying to intimidate clients. There were no arrests, just veiled threats like "I'll be watching you asshole". In my blog August 21st responding to accusations by Dermit Baldwin that police are harassing homeless in Calgary, I suggested that Mr Ritchie from CPS produce statistical proof to support his contention that the accussation is untrue. This is the age of computers, should be easy enough to call up that info.
I also noticed less of a tendency to discriminate by the general public in Edmonton. The park I hung out at was frequented by all demographics, there seems to be less fear and resentment toward the homeless in Edmonton. I believe this comes from the city administration and ripples through the media into the general population.
Both cities get a failing grade in providing affordable housing for the working class and working poor. Remember affordable housing is not simply below market value... it is housing that costs no more then 35% of one's income. Again I will say the most efficient way to accomplish this, is for politicians to set aside their self interest and put as much land as possible into the hands of Habitat for Humanity.
As for the facilities (shelter, food etc) both cities do fairly well. In Calgary we have the D.I. one really huge facility and several smaller ones picking up the slack. In Edmonton I found Hope Mission handles the largest segment of the homeless population but houses them in several different shelters. Each one seems to cater to a different segment of the homeless and street populations. I see many advantages to this particular option. Perhaps as I continue my journey I will find something even better out there. But this blog is about Calgary vs Edmonton and between the two... Edmonton seems to be doing the better job of dealing with their homeless population.

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