Alberta’s social services minister is slamming the Edmonton mayor’s planned declaration of a homelessness emergency as a “political stunt.”

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi called for a special city council meeting on Monday, saying he wants to declare a citywide housing and homelessness emergency.

The day after Sohi’s announcement, Alberta Minister of Seniors, Community, and Social Services Jason Nixon said Edmonton and Calgary shelters have have more than enough space and are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

He denounced Sohi’s rhetoric as having “no value.”

Sohi wrote in an essay that the number of people falling into homelessness exceeds the capacity of the system, claiming Edmonton has seen a 68% increase in the number of people seeking housing services between 2019 and 2022, but the number of people placed in housing only increased by 7%.

Nixon said Sohi’s comments are harmful as they could discourage homeless people from seeking refuge.

“This is dangerous for anybody to imply that there is not adequate space for somebody to get warm on a day when it is -40. If it causes one person not to go in and get help because they think there is no adequate space to get help and that person loses their life, that is completely and utterly unacceptable,” said Nixon.

Nixon announced during a Friday press conference that the province would provide another $10 million to its 87 housing providers. 

Nixon said his department is investing about $100 million in emergency homeless housing this year alone in Edmonton, with similar investments coming in Calgary and other cities across the province. 

“I want to be very clear about this. We have more than enough emergency shelter space in the cities of Edmonton and Calgary,” said Nixon. He added that both cities were at 94% capacity last night, during one of the year’s coldest days. Nixon assured that capacity could be increased if necessary. 

“Hundreds and hundreds of people slept in our shelter system last night, and they are alive and not frozen to death because they chose to sleep inside that shelter system.” 

Nixon also assured that “Nobody will be turned away from an emergency shelter.”

He expressed skepticism about Sohi’s motivations for declaring an emergency.

“The reality is that the mayor of Edmonton made a statement yesterday about declaring an emergency that would have no value,” Nixon said. “It would not change the situation at all. He did so from vacation in Hawaii, a political statement instead of actually bringing forward constructive solutions.” 

The situation is worse because city officials have been in meetings with the provincial government for the last several weeks, developing a long-term plan to deal with the encampments in Edmonton, said Nixon.

Sohi said Nixon’s depiction of the shelter situation simply isn’t accurate, however.

“Much of the existing shelter space does not meet the City of Edmonton’s Emergency Shelter Standards. I have also heard directly from people with lived experience who don’t feel safe accessing shelter spaces,” wrote Sohi in his article.

The shelters do not receive funding if they do not meet the province’s standards, explained Nixon.

Nixon said that he had worked with Sohi in the past on housing issues and would continue to stand with him in advocating for fair funding from the federal government. However, he said he would not be attending a meeting with the mayor regarding the call for an emergency.

“It’s a complete political stunt. We’re not interested in that. We’re interested in real action, in helping individuals,” said Nixon. “That’s why we’ve invested more in shelters and affordable housing and rehabilitation facilities than any government in the history of the province.”

If the mayor is interested in coming to the table to do real work, then the province is interested in working with him; however, Nixon said that going through political motions that have no impact is a waste of time.