Iveson demands province protect city's homeless and 'broader population' from COVID-19

The city is growing frustrated with the province’s foot dragging in protecting Edmonton’s most vulnerable citizens, Mayor Don Iveson told reporters Thursday.

“While we appreciate the provincial government’s continued effort to engage us on this public health crisis, delays in decision making at the province are hindering Edmonton’s ability to act swiftly and proactively to protect people experiencing homelessness and in turn protect the broader population from COVID-19,” Iveson told reporters at a news conference at city hall.

Iveson said he has spoken to Premier Jason Kenney and several cabinet ministers on the issue but has not heard the answers he needs.

Under regular circumstances, homeless people are exposed to greater health risks, he said, adding that’s why he’s always pushes for housing to be part of the solution.

But COVID-19 is exacerbating health risks by lack of access to shelter and hygiene facilities, making self-isolation impossible for those living on the streets, Iveson said.

He warned the virus is not beholden to any constraints, and if the homeless are not protected, it would lead to greater risks of coronavirus infection for all Edmontonians.

He said the city is ready to activate a city space for use as a shelter for those without a home, an approach supported by police and most agencies, he said.

“This option has been before the government of Alberta for several days,” he said.

“I want the city to take action on this, but without Alberta Health Services … to manage intake and public health risks, the risks of concentrating so many people in one place would be too substantial for the city to take on on our own.”

“If the province wants to take a different and more distributed approach, which seems to be what they’re doing in Calgary, the city of course will do everything that we can to support that.

But I need the province to make a decision now.”

Iveson also said the city continues to work with the province on a plan to defer property taxes and possibly utility bills.

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