Homeless support agencies busy as cold weather hits Edmonton hard

Click to play video: 'Homeless shelters see spike in calls as cold weather hits' Homeless shelters see spike in calls as cold weather hits
WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton’s social agencies are busy now that frigid weather has hit the city. Julia Wong has more on how they’re supporting the most vulnerable – Nov 4, 2017

Community groups in Edmonton are rushing to provide care and warmth to the city’s homeless population as cold weather settles in.

Abdul Qureshi, who works with the 24/7 Crisis Diversion Team at Boyle Street Community Services, said the team has been very busy the last few days.

“Nov. 1 is when it started. We’ve just [been] swamped with a lot of calls. For us, personally, it’s been way more than 20 calls a day,” he said.

Qureshi said the team normally receives approximately eight calls a day.

“Mostly people that are just freezing outside in the weather that are unable to help themselves to shelter.

“We try to find a suitable place for them… If they have to go to a shelter, we’ll definitely get them to a shelter and a nice warm place to sleep.”

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The team responds to calls and hands out water, granola bars and, as temperatures dropped, toques, mittens and socks. Qureshi said the recent sudden drop in temperature meant vulnerable Edmontonians were not prepared and had not yet adapted to the cooler weather.

READ MORE: Overnight snow, freezing temperatures lead to slippery Edmonton commute Wednesday

Qureshi, who has worked with the team for more than two years, said the biggest fear is someone freezing to death.

“Last night, I dealt with an older lady, she was outside for at least six to seven hours, just freezing… the thing is she has dementia.

“If it hadn’t been for [a] civilian [looking] at her just freezing, we wouldn’t have ever known,” he said.

Edmontonians who see someone in distress or in need of help are asked to call 211 and press 3 to connect with the crisis diversion team.

READ MORE: ‘Living rough’: A glimpse into Edmonton’s river valley homeless

Dean Kurpjuweit, managing director of the Mustard Seed, said there is a need right now for donations that would normally come closer to the beginning of December.

“We’re a little lighter than we normally would be. We’re at a place where we need it now,” he said.

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“Good winter jackets, good hats, like hats you would wear in minus 30 are the hats we need and the same thing with gloves.”

Kurpjuweit said numbers have been on the rise for services and facilities operated by The Mustard Seed.

READ MORE: What Canadians can expect for winter weather this season

Normally, the organization’s church on 96 Street sees approximately 250 guests a day. Since the cold weather hit, between 300 and 400 people have been stopping in. The personal assistance centre, which provides donations to clients, typically sees approximately 1,000 people a month. Kurpjuweit said that number has gone up since the chilly temperatures arrived.

“Obviously there’s a lot of people out there right now that maybe two or three weeks ago, they were fine outside and now they need a place to come and warm up,” he said.

“[Clients are] used to it. They go through this every year. If you live here, you know it’s coming. I think the suddenness of it all is just the quick preparations for us to make sure we have enough hats, winter jackets, gloves, those kinds of things.”

Donations for The Mustard Seed can be dropped off at the personal assistance centre at 10568 114 Street from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on most weekdays, until 8 p.m. on Wednesday.

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Temperatures have taken a dive over the past week, with the city also receiving its first significant snowfall of the season. Daytime highs are expected to hover around the -5 C to -9 C range over the next five days, with overnight lows dipping as low as -15 C. And that’s before you factor in the wind.

READ MORE: Boyle Street Community Services needs warm clothing donations for Edmonton’s homeless

The call comes a day after Boyle Street Community Services made a public plea for donations of warm winter attire for men and women of all ages.

“Donations are down quite a bit right now,” said Brent Guidinger, development manager at Boyle Street Community Services. “I think it kind of speaks to just the nature of the weather in Edmonton.

Boyle Street is accepting any and all winter clothing, including socks, long underwear, mittens, toques, boots and jackets.

“The risk of hypothermia is through the roof right now,” Guidinger said. “It’s getting pretty cold. Lots of our folks are experiencing homelessness year-round.”

Donations can be dropped off at Boyle Street Community Services at 10116 – 105 Ave. Monetary donations can also be made online.

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-with files from Caley Ramsay

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