How Commonwealth is being used to shelter Edmontonians during extreme cold

Edmontonians brave deep freeze as winter warnings kick in
Jan. 12: Edmonton is currently in a deep freeze, and emergency shelters are filling up nightly. To help, the city has extra space at Commonwealth Rec Centre to give people a warm place to sleep. As Sarah Komadina explains, the extreme cold is expected to say for at least a week.

As part of the City of Edmonton and Homeward Trust‘s new policy on Extreme Weather Protocol, the field house at Commonwealth rec centre has been added to the city-wide response during extreme cold weather snaps.

READ MORE: Extreme cold prompts Edmonton to open Commonwealth rec centre as shelter

Space that can house nearly 40 people has been made available at the community rec centre overnight between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. The public will not have access to this portion of the facility when it’s being used to provide overnight shelter.

These beds can accommodate people with disabilities, pets, women, youth and others who might experience challenges accessing traditional shelters.

Storage boxes will be provided for people to store their belongings at the shelter.

The space is monitored, managed and patrolled by peace officers to ensure it is safe and welcoming to those in need, the city said.

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Most Edmonton shelters full overnight at cold snap hits
Most Edmonton shelters full overnight at cold snap hits

The Boyle Street Winter Warming bus has extended its hours to run from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. to transport people to Commonwealth. Edmonton Transit also runs a dedicated bus, free of charge, between shelters and certain transit stations.

City officials said opening Commonwealth would be considered when the weather is -20 with wind chill or lower and when shelters are at 90 per cent capacity. Three-days’ notice will be given before the Commonwealth overnight shelter service ends.

READ MORE: What to do if you see someone sleeping in the cold in Edmonton

Without the addition of the Commonwealth space, Edmonton has several other shelters.

Dedicated Winter Emergency Response drop-in locations:

Boyle Street Community Services

Bissell Centre

Jasper Place Wellness Centre

Mosaic Centre

The Mustard Seed

Drop-in locations:

Canadian Native Friendship Centre

Mustard Seed

Operation Friendship

Dickinson Amity House

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Youth drop-in locations:

Boyle Street

Old Strathcona



Crystal Kids

YESS (Armoury)

City of Edmonton/Homeward Trust
City of Edmonton/Homeward Trust

How to help:

Call 211 (and press 3) if you see someone at risk of experiencing a crisis. This includes non-emergency support for shelter, intoxication and mental health.

Call 911 if you see someone experiencing an emergency.

Call 311 for City of Edmonton services related to homelessness. This includes any concerns city-wide about homelessness on public land and discarded needles.

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READ MORE: Inner-city homeless shelter in Edmonton closed for major renovations

“This is a life and death situation for a lot of people,” said Ryan Harding, manager of outreach for Hope Mission.

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“There’s dangers of frostbite, there’s dangers that aren’t always there 365 days a year.”

The extreme cold, along with the closure of the Herb Jamieson Centre, means it’s all hands on deck.

“We anticipate the need to increase as people are coming — people who are typically sleeping rough. However, we do have other space we can utilize within our organization. We’re definitely glad we have partners, and the City of Edmonton has stepped up with Commonwealth, there’s the mosque on the north end.

“We’re bracing ourselves and already we’ve seen a steep increase over the last couple of days,” he said Friday.

City of Edmonton’s director of housing and homelessness on extreme cold weather plans
City of Edmonton’s director of housing and homelessness on extreme cold weather plans

Donations are currently needed for community members experiencing homelessness:

  • New socks, underwear and thermal wear
  • New or gently used gloves, toques, scarves, warm clothing and winter jackets

The following agencies are accepting donations: Mustard Seed, George Spady, Hope Mission, Bissell Centre, Jasper Place Wellness Centre, E4C, Salvation Army, YESS, iHuman.

“We’re always taking warm clothing,” Harding said. “I think the critical thing we need right now is gloves and hand warmers.”

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Items may also be dropped off at the following retail locations:

  • Bissell Centre Thrift Store at 9919 – 118 Ave. from Monday-Saturday (10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
  • Find Retail + Donation Centre at 5120 – 122 St. NW from Monday-Friday (9 a.m. to 6 p.m.) on Saturday (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and Sunday (12 p.m. to 4 p.m.)

Local agencies are also pleased to accept monetary donations, hygiene products and other supplies. Staff on-site will be able to tell you exactly what the urgent need is.