During its last council meeting of 2023, city council directed the administration to commission a homelessness study in the city in order to have a more comprehensive understanding of, 'the vulnerable and unsheltered population in the community and options for moving forward.'

The study is estimated to cost $25,000. The cost will be covered by saved money from the city's previous Social Well-being Survey. 

In her presentation to council, Angela Angel, a social planner with the Social Planning Team with the City stated that in 2022 a bout of extreme cold temperatures displaced some residents in the city, which highlighted the issue of whether Airdrie had adequate support for those vulnerable living situations. 

City documents stipulate that from several conversations with Community Link, Winter 2022 highlighted that there were very, 'limited resources to support the additional acute needs of unsheltered residents during extreme weather events.'

Angel underlined that the study would help to quantify the issue of homelessness in Airdrie, which would allow council to build comprehensive and data-informed decisions on how to tackle the issue. 

Currently, Airdrie does not have a 24-hour emergency shelter or other social housing programs, such as the ones that provide services to the unhoused and vulnerable populations in Calgary. Angel underlined however that there are social service agencies like Airdrie's Community Links which does have intake workers who help clients.

"... And provide them with what they have, which would be, if in supply, basic needs, backpacks and referrals to services. However, at present, the community does not have a shared coordinated or substantial plan in place to meet the acute needs of unsheltered individuals and families during extreme cold weather events."

Angel said that there is both a short-term and long-term strategy to focus on when it comes to addressing homelessness, especially as the city continues to grow, with an anticipated population of 100,000 by 2028. The more short-term plans to address homelessness in the city are already in the works.

Earlier this month, Social Planning met with 15 community stakeholders that represent 10 community social serving organizations to discuss and develop policies around extreme cold weather events.

"Administration right now is working with corporate communications to put this information up on the website as an extreme cold weather community resource listing. Additionally, administration is meeting with representatives from key city departments to discuss the short-term action. While the short-term action just described steps towards helping to protect the health and safety of unsheltered individuals, it does not solve the issue of homelessness in Airdrie."

The study would be part of a longer-term solution, though it was underlined that the study would also not solve homelessness.

"The results of this study could be shared with the council in Q3 or Q4 of 2024, pending the study's complexity. The City's work on homelessness in Airdrie will not be over once the study is completed. The findings from the study on homelessness will identify key options to respond to and prevent homelessness and Airdrie. Moving on to alternatives and implications," Angel underlined.

Council, vastly agreed that a study must be completed to understand the complex issue of homelessness and those who may be vulnerable to becoming homeless.

Councillor Chapman became visibly emotional when discussing the issue of homelessness, saying that looking forward to the study's completion may be a misnomer because as much as he wants to see the study's findings, he is worried about the numbers that may be given in the study - illustrating a broader problem than previously thought.

Councillor Jones said that he would like to see clear distinctions in the study between those who are homeless and those who may be at risk of homelessness.

"I don't want to see somebody counted as homeless that has a home even if it's crowded; it's kind of two different issues. I'm not saying it's not an issue that shouldn't be addressed. I'm just saying I want to know, what we need to do immediately versus what we can strive to do overtime," Councillor Jones remarked. " I just want to separate from who's sleeping on park benchers, who is unprotected when it gets to minus 20 outside."

Mayor Brown, along with other councillors however pushed back saying that in order to begin to tackle the issue, one must at least have a benchmark of the issue itself.

"We haven't built a house yet. We haven't bought a lot. We're just getting started, this is the beginning," Mayor Brown assured.

City documents underlined that without action, it is possible that an encampment situation could begin to evolve in Airdrie. 

The study is anticipated to be conducted by a third-party consultant and will attempt to do a homelessness estimation, including trying to reach those with living/lived experience with homelessness, which may reveal gaps in services within the community.

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