The City of Cold Lake administration and council recently addressed a letter received from the Canadian Federal Advocate, a group that is in charge of making recommendations and improving Canada’s housing laws. The letter sent to council spoke of homelessness in the community and encampments.  

Discussions took place about the report’s implications and potential actions the City could take in response to the growing concerns around homeless issues. 

During the Feb. 20 Corporate Priorities Committee meeting, CAO Kevin Nagoya opened the discussion by highlighting the federal advocate’s perspective on homeless camps, framing it as a potential human rights crisis within Canada. Nagoya emphasized the need to view homeless issues through a wider lens and consider systemic solutions that provide individuals with a place to stay.  

He also drew attention to the contrasting views from the Premier of Alberta and expressed the City’s position with 145 ID contacts of unhoused persons within Cold Lake. 

“In our stats, we do have 145 unhoused ID contacts of unhoused persons in Cold Lake, the various individuals… that are utilizing the support mechanisms for the mat program and outreach program at the Cold Lake John Howard Society,” said Nagoya. 

He further explains, “the City of Cold Lake has a significant homeless unhoused population when you look at comparators in regard to Wetaskiwin and Edmonton in terms of by the numbers, it is a pretty high number.”  

Council weighs in

Coun. Chris Vining expressed his initial shock at the idea that homeless encampments are entitled to exist, according to the report. Vining questioned the practicality of allowing such encampments to stand, given the associated responsibilities for providing essential services like water, sanitation, garbage disposal, and heating.  

Vining raised concerns about the feasibility of sustaining these services and the potential financial strain on the municipality. 

“When this report came out and I was reading through it and going through some things and highlighting a few things out of it, I was really shocked that from this person’s perspective that wrote the report, that these encampments are entitled to exist. Like entitled to exist where?” 

Mayor Craig Copeland echoed Vining’s sentiments, emphasizing the impracticality of allowing encampments without clear plans for addressing the associated responsibilities.  

Vining further criticized the provincial government’s focus on shelter spaces, highlighting the distinction between shelter spaces and actual housing. He argued that shelter spaces do not address the root causes of homelessness and called for a more comprehensive approach. 

“Shelter spaces aren’t homes. Shelter spaces aren’t housing.” 

Vining compared the notion to building a larger emergency room at a hospital to improve health care in a community. 

“Well, that didn’t improve our health care, it just gave us a bigger emergency room,” he said. 

Vining acknowledged the challenges faced by municipalities, emphasizing the need for serious action from higher levels of government to address the underlying issues. He expressed frustration at the continuous pressure on municipalities, without adequate resources, leading to an unsustainable situation. 

Coun. Vicky Lefebvre acknowledged Cold Lake’s efforts to assist the homeless population but questioned the City’s ability to fund all the requirements outlined in the report. She emphasized the need to balance the safety of the general population with the challenges of providing services to those in need.  

Lefebvre suggested drafting a letter expressing the City’s concerns and efforts to assist while acknowledging the existing challenges. 

“I think Cold Lake has done several things in order to help our population that requires additional services. I think we do need to respond. I don’t know how we can be expected to fund all the requirements that they’re asking for, while we still have to be cognizant of the safety of our population that’s not at risk. Because we’ve seen some of the articles that come out of these encampments… they have weapons and things like that… There’s a lot more to this than just providing a space.” 

Lefebvre continued by saying that even when steps are taking, such as applying to get federal housing funds, there is always a waiting period.  

“So, I think it would be good of us if we could just have a succinct letter expressing our concerns, what we’ve done. And I believe we’ve worked really hard for the people here to try and assist them, but we are challenged. And it’s not something we can get out on our own.” 

Nagoya added to the discussion by sharing his perspective, emphasizing the municipality’s efforts to set up shelter spaces. He echoed the call for assistance from the province and criticized the notion of perpetually sustaining homeless encampments at the taxpayer’s expense.  

He also highlighted the importance of addressing the root causes of homelessness, such as addiction and mental health issues, rather than focusing solely on temporary solutions. 

Copeland wrapped up the discussion by stating council should maintain the current course of action, and to persist in their ongoing efforts. 

By Chantel Downes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 26, 2024 at 14:32

This item reprinted with permission from   Lakeland This Week   Bonnyville, Alberta

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