Calgary shelters and outreach teams are gearing up to support people without a warm place to sleep through this week’s extreme cold snap.
Temperatures below –30°C are expected on Thursday and Friday night, according to Environment Canada.
“We worry daily, and when it gets cold, our worry ratchets up,” said Calgary Homeless Foundation CEO Patricia Jones.
“The reality is, the cold weather is deadly.”
The Calgary Homeless Foundation’s latest point-in-time homeless count recorded 2,782 Calgarians who were unhoused.
According to Jones, the city’s shelters are running at about 75 per cent capacity, and she believes there are enough beds available to handle a surge in demand as temperatures plummet.
About 425 warming spaces are open at various locations, including the Journey Church in Rocky Ridge and The Alex Community Health Centre in southeast Calgary.
The spaces are made available through the Co-ordinated Community Extreme Weather Response. The city, community organizations and non-profits co-operate to maximize resource efficiency.
“None of us work in isolation, and we really couldn’t be effective for the people we serve if we worked in isolation,” said Jones.
“It’s incumbent on us as professionals to collaborate so the people we serve don’t have to navigate our system.”
Among the resources available is the Salvation Army’s mobile warming station.
Every day, an outreach team visits two train stations, where they offer support to those who need an escape from the cold.
“They set up a pop-up tent with heaters and coffee, hot chocolate, soup, sandwiches, warm clothes for anyone who is at those stations,” said Cliff Wiebe, executive director of the Salvation Army in Calgary.
“Getting in out of the cold, getting some of those wet gloves off or wet shoes off and getting into some dry clothes can make all the difference.”
The local Sally Ann provides 85 shelter beds for men and 20 beds for women, but they’ve been consistently full since the fall.
The agency does have a good supply of winter clothes to dole out this week, however, according to Wiebe.
“It’s been so warm. [Demand has] been lower than usual,” he said. “We can always use more, and it’s going to go quickly now, but we have been OK on the clothes front.”
Wiebe says his team is well-prepared to offer help through the arctic chill.
The Alpha House Society, which offers 120 beds to people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, has seen its shelter space reach 95 per cent capacity in recent nights.
Community engagement director Shaundra Bruvall said people typically cycle through the shelter, but they’ll look to pause that practice during the cold snap.
WATCH | Shaundra Bruvall explains how Alpha House is handling the cold weather:
“We’ll encourage people to stay indoors longer because we know that that’s the safest option for everybody,” she said.
The society’s outreach teams will also provide supplies to those who choose to continue sleeping rough.
But for the most part, Bruvall says, it’s business as usual.
“We’ll prep our staff to make sure, you know, that they’re on the lookout for signs of frostbite,” she said.
‘[But] we are pretty well accustomed to these types of cold snaps, of course, in Calgary.”
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