Homelessness grabs centre stage as 1,100 take in Homefest show
MARC BENCE/FOR METRO EDMONTON
« There are more homeless people and there are more people in unhealthy or overly expensive housing than ever before.»
More and more people are being left out in the cold because of a lack of action from provincial and federal leaders, according to a group of local folk musicians who staged a unique concert yesterday to bring attention to the city’s growing homeless population.
The Homefest concert attracted close to 1,100 music lovers and homeless advocates to the TransAlta Arts Barns yesterday as musicians made a call for more affordable housing and demanded an end to homelessness.
Organizers with the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness say the annual event has grown in its last five years, but homelessness is getting worse as people earning low incomes struggle with rising monthly rents coupled with a lack of affordable housing.
"Despite all the work of community organizations in Edmonton in the last five years, there are more homeless people and there are more people in unhealthy or overly expensive housing than ever before," said ECOHH co-chair Jim Gurnett.
During an average night in Edmonton, Gurnett estimates about 2,600 people are sleeping in the streets or in shelters.
And the number of homeless has ballooned since 1999 when an average 800 homeless people lived in Edmonton, according to an ECOHH study.
"The amount of homelessness has tripled in the last six years in Edmonton," said Gurnett.
Governments need to re-invest in affordable housing projects, something that hasn’t been done in 40 years, says Gurnett, who adds charitable donations to community groups devoted to building affordable housing simply aren’t enough to curb the disturbing trend.
"In this province we are seeing this unbelievable surge in land values, and people who are low-income earners are paying a huge price," said local folk musician John Spearn.
"These are not people who choose to be on the street either — they are here to take advantage of our wonderful province and they need places to stay."
This year’s Homefest lineup included Asani, Myrol, Raisin’ Cain, Down in the Wood and Thaneah & Ten Feet of Hair.
Money raised from the concert will be given to the John Howard Society and the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers for transitional housing and youth programs.