RMWB council approves funding for homelessness initiatives

The funding will support rental and wraparound services, including for people fighting addictions, and reduce encampments in the region.

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Council has unanimously approved $132,068 in funding for fighting homelessness in the region. The money will go towards the Homelessness Initiatives Strategic Committee (HISC) for the 2024-25 Community Plan on Homelessness.

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The province and federal government have committed more than $5 million towards fighting homelessness in the region. The funding covers a municipal request for increased funding that both levels of government denied.

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Deanne Bergey, the municipality’s community and protective services director, said the full funding will support rental and wraparound services, including addictions programs. It will also be used to reduce encampments in the region. The municipal plan takes a Housing First approach, which uses caseworkers to support people who have just moved into a housing program.

“We’re working closely with Indigenous agencies because we know that 60 per cent of those experiencing homelessness are Indigenous,” said Bergey. “I want to believe that we will end homelessness, or at least get to functional zero where everyone that wants a home is in a home, and I think we’re on the right path.”

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Bergey warned council at their Tuesday meeting that federal funding will likely be reduced for the budget years between 2026 and 2028. A report to council estimates the shortfall for the 2025-26 grant year is more than $700,000.

Non-profits in the region have argued the number of chronically homeless people in the region is likely higher than what’s found in municipal counts. Bergey said the municipality knows of 36 people living on the streets and 93 people on the By Name List waiting for housing. This is a 98 per cent increase from last year.

“That’s not bad news, that just means we’ve been able to tap into those individuals who are living work and they’ve seen the program work and they also want to be housed,” said Bergey.

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Councillor Allan Grandison was outspoken throughout the meeting with his concerns that filling the shortfall will set precedents for taking over projects that are not the municipality’s responsibility. But just before the vote, Grandison said he was changing his mind.

Mayor Sandy Bowman agreed with Grandison’s concerns about the municipality covering for other levels of government and promised to push the provincial and federal governments for more funding. Bowman also praised the work of HISC and said leaders in Grande Prairie, Lethbridge and Red Deer have also complimented the municipality’s work on fighting homelessness.

“Although we do have homelessness, we do have encampments here in our community, I believe we’re leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else,” said Bowman. “It’s not just me saying that. Sitting down with Lethbridge, they’re like ‘what are you doing? What are you doing right?’ My only answer is we have the right people here.”

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