Supportive housing provides Edmonton’s most vulnerable people with the support, safety, and stability they need to lead healthy and connected lives. New supportive housing sites are being proposed in Inglewood, King Edward Park, McArthur Industrial/Wellington and Terrace Heights. Visit your community's webpage for more information.
September 1, 2020 - Information Session
A recording of our first virtual information session with experts on supportive housing is available to watch below. The panellists were Inspector Daniel Jones from the Edmonton Police Service, Ashley Baxter, Director of Community Programs and Services from Bissell Centre, and Emily Dietrich, Chief Programs Officer at Homeward Trust.
About The Project
Increasing the supply of supportive housing is a key priority of the Affordable Housing Investment Plan (2019-2022) and the overall strategy to end homelessness in Edmonton.
Building new supportive housing is a significant undertaking and there will be several phases and milestones, including rezoning approval at City Council, before construction can begin.
City Council approved the sale of City-owned land to Homeward Trust on June 29, 2020. The sale is subject to terms and conditions, including public engagement and any necessary rezoning approvals. The City is currently in the Planning and Design Phase and the Engagement Phase.
The City and Homeward Trust are gathering public input on 2 key decision points: a Good Neighbour Plan and the look and feel of the buildings.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Supportive housing is for people who have experienced homelessness or housing insecurity and combines subsidized rental units with continuous, on-site support specific to the needs of its residents.
Supportive housing helps people who have complex needs by bringing the services they need directly to them, rather than leaving them to manage on their own. It provides vulnerable Edmontonians with a permanent, safe place to call home and the consistency and support they need to lead healthy and connected lives.
No. Supportive housing is not a shelter or a drop-in service, a halfway house, a group home, bridge housing, institutional clinical setting, or any other type of temporary accommodations. It is a permanent residence and established community for vulnerable people. Residents have the opportunity to build a home and life within supportive housing, just like other Edmontonians.
People who live in supportive housing come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and have different reasons for accessing the support it offers. Some people in supportive housing have physical disabilities and/or mental health challenges that restrict their ability to work consistently and maintain independent housing. Others may be struggling with substance use and need access to on-site health resources and continuous support from trained staff to help them to manage their disease.
Once in supportive housing, residents have their own apartment, a place to meet the people providing them with their specific supports (such as a social worker or nurse), a community, and way to participate in various social systems. Supportive housing provides a sense of safety, stability and community.
Residents have made a choice to enter supportive housing, and are committed to maintaining their housing and their professionally-delivered care plan developed as part of their residency. They are matched to a site based on the type of support it offers; their preferred location is also taken into consideration.
Their referral into supportive housing is part of a coordinated placement process done with Homeward Trust, Alberta Health Services and the contracted operator of the supportive housing sites to ensure supports on site match the needs of the residents.
Homeward Trust is a trusted community partner with the experience to deliver well-run supportive housing. Homeward Trust will act as property manager and select operators for each site through an open Request for Proposals (RFP) process. The operators will establish standards of behaviour for residents living in supportive housing.
Supportive housing is designed, built and maintained to be a home that is functional, safe and secure, and appropriate for the surrounding neighbourhood.
Additionally, each site will have a Good Neighbour Plan as a way of integrating the supportive housing site into the community. It is a tool for developing and maintaining a positive relationship between supportive housing and its broader community. The plan will outline their shared commitments and identify who the community can contact with concerns.
The specific services offered at supportive housing sites vary depending on the service provider and the needs of the residents.
Generally, support workers are on staff to provide residents with social, medical and structural support and to assist in meeting their needs and helping them maintain their housing status and personal progress. This can include helping with tasks like grocery shopping, accessing transportation, applying for income assistance and other government programs, among others.
Medication management may also be located on-site to help residents maintain their health and manage addictions. In some cases, medical professionals are on staff; in some cases they visit the supportive housing site on a weekly or biweekly basis to provide services to the residents.
Psychologists and social workers may also visit a supportive housing site regularly to provide individual or group services to the residents.
Each site will also have a property manager that works to foster residents’ independence, security, housing stability, and relationship within the community.
The people experiencing homelessness we are most familiar with are those we see on the streets. People who are homeless do not have a place to go during the day and have to find a way to meet their most basic needs — finding food, a bathroom, and shelter of some kind. At night, they may line up for a bed at a shelter that they have to leave early the next morning.
Supportive housing breaks that cycle. The people who live in supportive housing have their own apartment, on-site medical, social work or mental health support, common space to participate in activities, resources to go grocery shopping, volunteer or work, if possible, and a supportive social system. The residents always have a place they can be safe, be with others, and be supported as they strive to lead healthy and connected lives.
Each supportive housing site is different and support varies based on the program’s mandate and its residents’ needs. All sites have continuous, wraparound, on-site support services that help build individual strengths and the capacity to live independently. This can include:
Mental health services
Medical services, including disability services
Cultural, ceremonial and spiritual practices
Recreation or support group activities
Community-based education, volunteerism and vocational planning, and
It’s also worth noting that residents will be supported in securing income, whether through employment or income support.
Edmonton has made significant progress toward ending homelessness. But there are still around 2000 people experiencing homelessness, with more than 500 people sleeping outside on any given night. People experiencing chronic homelessness often have complex needs that make living independently a challenge. Supportive housing is a proven and effective way to help people find and maintain housing by providing continuous, wraparound support to improve overall health and wellbeing for residents.
The City of Edmonton has a goal of developing 900 supportive housing units over 6 years: 600 units by 2022, and 300 more by 2024.
Supportive housing is not new. Supportive housing already serves hundreds of people who have experienced homelessness or housing insecurity in neighbourhoods throughout the city.
Supportive housing works. 60-84% of residents in supportive housing remain housed for 2 years or more, rather than returning to homelessness.
Supportive housing is cost effective. The City of Edmonton’s proposal to develop 900 units of supportive housing is expected to save governments approximately $230 million in health, emergency service, justice and policing resources over 10 years.
The City of Edmonton is committed to increasing the supply of supportive and affordable housing, and offers vacant, City-owned land and/or grants toward its construction. These 4 sites were owned by the City and sold at below-market rates to Homeward Trust, a non-profit housing provider.
The City has a policy that provides guidelines for identifying appropriate sites for supportive housing. These sites were selected because they are ready for development, well integrated with the surrounding land uses and built form, and close to amenities and services for residents, like transit, grocery stores, and recreation opportunities, like rec centres, libraries and parks.
There is no conclusive evidence to suggest non-market housing, including supportive housing, negatively affects surrounding property values.
Studies have consistently found that if non-market housing is well-designed, fits in with the surrounding neighbourhood, and is well managed, property values of neighbouring homes are not negatively affected.
Residential real estate values, both for home assessment and sale value, are primarily driven by local and global economic factors, rather than the introduction of new non-market housing in the community. The same is true of commercial properties.
Supportive housing is staffed by social workers, psychologists, nurses, therapists and support workers who have the training and experience needed to help residents succeed and to provide daily programming to keep residents engaged.
The City analyzed the impact of non-market housing on the safety of 5 core neighbourhoods and found there was no correlation between crime and non-market housing, including supportive housing.
Using data and analytics support from the Edmonton Police Service, the City studied how many police events, including drug-related activity, violence, and property crime, occurred between 2011-2018 around non-market housing addresses in 5 core neighbourhoods. The number of events at these sites were then compared to the number of total events in the neighbourhood where the site was located.
Non-market properties, including supportive housing, were responsible for just 4% of the total number of police events for the five neighbourhoods, despite making up 12% of the total housing.
The City also examined data pertaining to bylaw complaints, including noise and graffiti, and found that non-market housing properties were responsible for just 1.3% of the total bylaw complaints in their neighbourhoods.
Additionally, an analysis of a supportive housing site in downtown Edmonton saw a 46% drop in interactions between residents and police in the 2 years after they moved in, compared to the 2 years before.
The residents, staff and neighbours of supportive housing all have a shared interest in maintaining a safe environment. If a tenant’s actions put other tenants or the community at risk, the operator will respond.
Additionally, each site will have a Good Neighbour Plan, a tool for developing and maintaining a positive relationship between supportive housing and the community.
A Good Neighbour Plan outlines the shared commitments of the service provider and community, and identifies who the community can contact with concerns. It will include an issue resolution process through which the community and supportive housing site can work together to resolve any concerns.
Community members are invited to provide input on a Good Neighbour Plan as part of the City’s engagement process.
Supportive Housing Stories
Many people have asked about the experiences of people who live in supportive housing. Residents in four different supportive housing sites agreed to share their stories. Names have been changed to protect privacy, but no other details have been changed.
Harris grew up in New Brunswick, but moved to Alberta to work in a machine shop around 30 years ago. In 2001, he lost his job, and with few connections and resources, he found himself homeless shortly thereafter. He spent almost 7 years living in encampments in the river valley and struggling with addiction.
In 2014, Homeward Trust’s Pathways to Housing program staff met Harris and helped him access a place in supportive housing. He has experienced significant health challenges in recent years and has lost much of his mobility, but the supports and access to medical care available in supportive housing keep him comfortable.
It took time for Harris to adjust to living in housing. After so many years sleeping outside and being constantly on alert, he struggled to feel secure in his apartment, and for the first year he always kept his things in a backpack by the door, afraid he’d be forced to leave. But in the 5 years he’s lived in supportive housing, he’s become adjusted, and likes the security of knowing he’ll have a safe place to sleep at night.
Harris describes himself as a private person, but he enjoys the camaraderie of supportive housing, and having a place where he can put his things and enjoy some privacy. Because of his disability, he doesn’t go out much, but he likes to drink coffee from his favourite mug and watch black and white movies with other residents during the day, particularly Westerns. He’s also developed an interest in gardening and is looking after many plants in his apartment.
In terms of services, Harris gets help with accessing disability-friendly transportation when he needs to travel, grocery shopping, managing his AISH cheques, and taking his medication. He is still in recovery from drug use, but he is able to access weekly group therapy sessions to talk about addictions and recovery, and he makes use of the treatment programs that are available through the housing and medical staff.
When asked what he wishes people outside supportive housing knew about this type of facility, Harris said he would want people to understand that residents are just trying to get help, and that the dignity and safety they get from being housed is really important. For the future, he plans to continue living in supportive housing and getting treatment for his health issues and addiction.
Darren is 24 years old. He lives with Fetal-Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), but he didn’t get an FASD diagnosis until he was an adult. In the past, he had a hard time maintaining independent housing or living with family. He became connected with supportive housing through his social worker. While he has never been homeless, his worker felt he would benefit from the structure, support and community of supportive housing. His rent in supportive housing is paid through his AISH payments.
Darren has been living in supportive housing for 3 years. For most of that time, he’s lived with his roommate Eric, who has become a good friend, and together they have a cat. On a regular day, Darren likes to visit the gym and the nearby library, and volunteers with a local community youth organization, where he is working with the staff to develop an anti-bullying program. He has previously worked part-time in retail positions when seasonal work was available; now he is working on building his resume with the help of the supportive housing staff.
Darren said that moving into supportive housing has been “liberating” for him. He has people to help him manage his emotions and day to day tasks when he needs support. He has found a small community of people who understand his experience with FASD. Darren said that in his life, he’s found that “there are times in life when yourself isn’t enough, and sometimes it’s as simple as having someone there to help.” That help has allowed him to maintain housing and develop independence.
For the future, Darren is hoping to get his anti-bullying program off the ground. He would like to enrol in school to finish his GED through Norquest and eventually hopes to become a social worker, so he can give back the support he has received. While he doesn’t see himself moving out of supportive housing soon, he is hopeful that eventually he will feel secure and prepared enough to manage living on his own when he is ready.
Leslie left home in northern Saskatchewan when he was 13 years old — more than 50 years ago now. He had 50 cents in his pocket when he left, but he also took with him a knowledge of Cree and a strong respect for Indigenous ceremony. He struggled with addiction over the next several decades, travelling across Canada and falling in and out of sobriety.
Around four years ago, he was diagnosed with cancer and received treatment in Red Deer. He lost the ability to walk, and was not expected to live, but he worked every day to walk again and reconnect with Indigenous ceremony. In the midst of his cancer recovery, he was invited by an Indigenous elder to come live in a supportive housing facility in Edmonton that is centred around Indigenous culture and traditions.
For Leslie, the biggest impact of supportive housing has been that it has given him hope. He told us that “a little bit of hope can break a cycle,” and that the feeling of safety and stability he’s found in housing has been critical to his health recovery. The staff and residents participate in ceremony together, and that process has helped Leslie to gain a stronger sense of hope and self-worth, to ground himself in the community, and to take on a leadership role within the housing facility. Today, he has regained his mobility and is cancer-free.
As he ages, and after experiencing significant health challenges, one of the things that Leslie thinks about in his supportive housing is death with dignity. In supportive housing, he’s seen other residents pass away, from old age or from illness, but they’ve been surrounded by staff and friends who help them pass comfortably and with dignity, and in some cases have helped them reconnect with family before passing. Leslie said that this kind of dignity and respect isn’t available for people who pass away while living on the streets.
Today, Leslie is an active part of his community. He goes to garage sales and community events, and sells his painting, rattles and drums at craft sales in the area. He wants to continue staying in supportive housing and building the connections he has made with staff, other residents, and with his family.
Years ago, Steven was working in Halifax for the federal government. He had a family and a job, but he was also living with undiagnosed and untreated schizophrenia and depression. When he started to struggle, he lost his job, and things progressively fell apart. For years afterward, Steven was homeless and worked as a general labourer on construction sites across Canada, including in Edmonton.
Steven said it was particularly difficult to be homeless in Edmonton. He got into trouble with police for loitering in transit shelters to stay warm, and once got gangrene from untreated frostbite. Throughout all of this, Steven’s schizophrenia went undiagnosed, making it difficult for him to access the services he would need to get on his feet.
Eventually, the police who picked Steven up for loitering asked for a psychiatric evaluation, at which point he received a diagnosis and was placed in a medical facility, where he received treatment for a year and a half.
Steven was then referred to a supportive housing facility focused on individuals living with schizophrenia. Steven described supportive housing as “a stable, predictable environment,” which has been important for his mental well-being over the past 4 years. The community provides him with a good balance between socialization and privacy — he can go to his apartment when he feels overwhelmed or spend time with other residents in the common areas when he wants the company.
Steven likes the concerts and events that the staff sometimes host in the building for residents and the surrounding community, but other than that he doesn’t like to go out very much. He told us he doesn’t like to draw attention to himself. Sometimes he likes to go for walks or even occasionally make interesting purchases at Value Village.
For the future, Steven is hoping to stay in supportive housing. The help he receives in supportive housing, like medication management, assistance in managing his finances, and social support is important to him, and to maintaining a good quality of life.
When asked what he would like people outside of supportive housing to know about his experience, Steven said that while he knows his life story and day-to-day life might not be the same as a typical person, he feels safe and comfortable after many years of struggle, and is happy where he is.