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Edmonton businesses look for solutions to city's homelessness crisis

About 200 members of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce gathered at the Delta Hotel in the city's downtown on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2024, to discuss how businesses can play a role in finding solutions to Edmonton’s homelessness crisis. (Aaron Sousa/CBC - image credit)
About 200 members of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce gathered at the Delta Hotel in the city's downtown on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2024, to discuss how businesses can play a role in finding solutions to Edmonton’s homelessness crisis. (Aaron Sousa/CBC - image credit)

Governments can't solve the homelessness crisis on their own and it'll be up to businesses to collaborate on solutions, according to one of Alberta's homelessness and affordable housing experts.

About 200 members of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce gathered on Tuesday to discuss how the city's business community can offer and implement solutions to Edmonton's homelessness crisis.

It also comes almost one month after Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi declared a housing and homelessness emergency, calling for action from the community.

More than 40 chamber members, including representatives from OEG Inc. and the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation, signed a declaration in December 2023 to end homelessness.

Sohi, who was among those who attended Thursday's event, said governments and businesses have a vested interest and responsibility to end homelessness.

Edmonton mayor Amarjeet Sohi says there needs to be a crackdown on gun and gang violence in the city.
Edmonton mayor Amarjeet Sohi says there needs to be a crackdown on gun and gang violence in the city.

Edmonton mayor Amarjeet Sohi said governments and businesses have a vested interest and responsibility to end homelessness. (Christopher Mihailides/CBC)

"Not tackling it has a huge impact on business growth, investment attraction [and] disorder in our cities because people are unable to contribute to building a better city," he told CBC News.

"I am hopeful that the business community will mobilize and offer solutions and work with us."

Some of the ideas discussed at the event included creating low-capital affordable housing projects and providing job opportunities for unhoused Edmontonians.

Sohi commitment 

During the event, speaker Dr. Louis Francescutti asked Sohi if he would commit to allocating more land for affordable housing projects.

When Sohi said "yes," the crowd reacted with applause.

After the exchange, Sohi told CBC News the details would be discussed further at a council meeting on Feb. 12, where it's expected councillors will discuss what more the city can do.

"This council has taken a significant lead, and we will do more," he said.

"Making land available is something that we can definitely pursue."

Those who spoke at the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce discussion said governments can’t solve the homelessness crisis on their own, but business leaders want to make a difference.
Those who spoke at the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce discussion said governments can’t solve the homelessness crisis on their own, but business leaders want to make a difference.

Those who spoke at the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce discussion said governments can’t solve the homelessness crisis on their own, but business leaders want to make a difference. (Aaron Sousa/CBC)

Murray Soroka, CEO of the Jasper Avenue Wellness Centre, spoke at the event. He said governments can't solve the homelessness crisis on their own and business leaders want to make a difference.

It'll be up to businesses to collaborate on solutions, he said.

"The business community has been waiting a long time for this, for someone to … get the ball rolling," Soroka said in an interview.

"We'll see what the next steps are, but at least there's interest."

One of the solutions Soroka brought forward during the discussion was affordable housing projects like the ones undertaken by the Jasper Avenue Wellness Centre.

He said the centre owns four buildings, consisting of 12 affordable apartment units. Designed to sit on a single-family lot, each building costs roughly $1.8 million to construct, which is paid for mostly by grant funding.

Murray Soroka's non-profit company, Redemptive Developments, hires marginalized Albertans to recycle mattresses.
Murray Soroka's non-profit company, Redemptive Developments, hires marginalized Albertans to recycle mattresses.

Murray Soroka, CEO of the Jasper Place Wellness Centre, said Edmonton's homelessness crisis became more apparent after the city began removing encampments. He's hopeful positive outcomes come out of Thursday's meeting. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

Along with the 12 units, the buildings also include large common areas for residents to socialize and build community.

"It's really interesting to watch," Soroka said. "These people come together and they [help] each other."

Keeping capital costs low is one of many ways to ensure rents are within reasonable limits, Soroka said.

The first of the four buildings opened in March 2023 after five years of working with the city to have permits approved.

"The challenge with affordable housing is it still costs a lot of money to build anything.

"That's hard to come up with the funding for that type of thing … so it's really coming up with the finances to make a project like this work."

After the City of Edmonton began tearing down encampments in December, Soroka said the city's homelessness crisis has become more apparent. There needs to be an action plan, and he's hopeful positive outcomes will come out of Thursday's meeting.

"I had a construction company come up to me and say, 'We want to build one of these,' so I think there's momentum and I hope that momentum continues to grow," he said.