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Calgary shelters adapt as vulnerable population faces extreme cold

Last Updated Feb 8, 2021 at 8:18 am MDT

CALGARY (CityNews) – As Calgary continues to experience extreme cold weather, shelters are managing the homeless population in an unusually difficult year when the threat of COVID-19 is very present.

“One of the groups of particular concern in the cold weather, is people who choose to sleep rough or sleep in established encampments,” said Executive Director of the Alpha House, Kathy Christiansen.

In any given year, there are several reasons people don’t want to sleep in a shelter, even in dangerously cold temperatures. It could be a bad experience like sexual assault or a robbery, but this year, COVID-19 is added to that list.

“COVID on top of that has really exasperated what is already a difficult situation,” said founder of Be The Change YYC, Chaz Smith.

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Smith and his group speak with people experiencing homelessness several times a week and said their goal is to get people inside, even if they’re hesitant.

“Although they are still very afraid of catching COVID and some of the other types of things that happen at these places we want to convince them that right now freezing is the main concern.”

Shelters are adapting as overflow sites have been added across the city and both Alpha House and Be The Change YYC have increased their outreach services.

“We’ve got an extra van 24/7. We put that in place to prepare for our usual cold spell,” said Christiansen who added shelters are corresponding with each other making sure that people who may have an issue at one shelter, can go to another one.

The Calgary Drop-in Centre is also making sure people know they have space and they’ve extended their clothing room hours.

Shelters are working hard to be responsive in a dynamic situation, but advocates believe the public also has a responsibility to look out for these people.

“We are finding them huddling around heat vents like on train platforms so that’s always a concern for us.”

You can call the DOAP Team, Be The Change YYC, or 311 if you see someone suffering in the cold.