The new housing is expected to be open by October
On the Northlands grounds the old jockey dorms have been sitting empty, but they will soon be used again. The City of Edmonton is converting the dorms into bridge housing. With roughly 2,000 Edmontonians experiencing homelessness and up to 500 people sleeping outside on any given night, there is a need for housing.
“Repurposing the dorm on Exhibition Lands will allow the City to provide bridge housing quickly and cost effectively,” says Nicole Thomas, City spokesperson.
Bridge housing is temporary housing that allows people to bridge the gap from homelessness to permanent housing. Residents will stay in the housing an average of 30-90 days while they secure permanent housing. It is not open for walk-in service or support, though.
“Residents will be referred through a process led by Homeward Trust that identifies and supports people who are committed to finding housing. Once selected, residents will receive health, well-being, and housing support,” says Thomas.
Homeward Trust is the leaseholder of the dorms.
“We have looked at a number of different best practices and will lease the building from the City,” says Susan McGee, CEO of Homeward Trust. From there, they will contract an agency to provide on-site support. “That agency, really, is working in collaboration with other agencies in the community that are housing people.”
McGee adds: “It really is important to think about it in terms of the coordinated access program that the community in Edmonton, the sector works with.” The dorms will house roughly 30 people, so Homeward Trust will be working through outreach programs, such as the Bissell Centre and Boyle Street Community Services.
“We have about a dozen organizations that have housing first teams and housing workers,” says McGee. These organizations refer individuals to stay at the housing facility while they are actively engaging with them. Once they are housed, the teams will work with the individual for up to a year to help them transition into permanent housing.
“The team on site is there to maintain an active focus on housing and provide the support to the agencies who will need to come in and make appointments with the individuals, take people to look at apartments, and to be that continuity and ensure that the environment maintained there is really focused on the housing effort,” says McGee.
The onsite team will help people staying at the dorms cross any barriers, such as getting identification, introducing them to landlords, and looking at apartments.
“We don’t just find a place and give somebody keys and hope they succeed. It’s a very involved process for the individual themselves. Ultimately, it’s them that has to do some of the hardest work,” McGee explains.
Steven Townsend, president of Parkdale Cromdale Community League, says, “I want to see more stuff like this happening, especially in vacant buildings that the city already has. It’s easy to retrofit them, get them going.”
It will cost approximately $600,000 to refurbish the old dorms, while building one would cost between $2.4 million and $5 million. They aim to be open by the beginning of October.
Featured Image: Kevin Wong, civic director (left) and Steven Townsend, president of Parkdale Cromdale Community League (right) in front of the soon-to-be bridge housing. | Stephen Strand