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Edmonton cold snap puts pressure on crisis teams, AHS, SPCA, 211

File shot of an Edmontonian seeking shelter in Churchill LRT Station, Jan. 12, 2017.
File shot of an Edmontonian seeking shelter in Churchill LRT Station, Jan. 12, 2017. Global News

As Edmonton sees itself in the midst of an extreme cold snap, emergency teams in the city said they are seeing an increase in calls for cold-related incidents and injuries.

Alberta Health Services

Alberta Health Services said that between Friday, Jan. 10 and Tuesday, Jan. 14, there were 27 cold-related emergency calls in the Edmonton zone, with five needing transportation to hospital and one requiring transport to a shelter.

The agency said that on a typical winter day where there are no cold weather warnings in place, there are about one to two cold exposure calls a day.

During the same period there were 11 emergency department visits for frostbite complaints.

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

211 distress calls

Edmontonians are asked to call 211 (press 3) if they see someone requiring shelter.

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That number is monitored by the Canadian Mental Health Association, working with REACH Edmonton, Hope Mission and Boyle Street Community Services to dispatch teams to help.

Emma Potter from CMHA said that between Jan. 10 and 14, there were about 660 calls involving people in distress made to 211, around 150-170 per day.

“Our numbers are increasing as more awareness is brought in, and we are bringing on additional staff to help respond to demand and get to callers as fast as possible,” Potter said in an email Tuesday.

During a regular winter day, Potter said that typically that the number of 211 calls is between 60-80.

READ MORE: How Commonwealth is being used to shelter Edmontonians during extreme cold

Elliot Tanti from Boyle Street Community Services said that the agency’s downtown shelter has seen a major increase in visits through the snap.

Tanti said that on an average day, it sees around 200 drop-in visits. Over this week’s cold snap, around 800 people have been coming through each day.

Recognizing the signs of frostbite and hypothermia
Recognizing the signs of frostbite and hypothermia

Boyle Street also has a team of 12 who are are out in the community checking in on vulnerable people.

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“Where we’ve ramped up in terms of outreach, is our street outreach teams are out in the community checking on people that we know are camping,” Tanti said.

“[The street outreach team is] doing welfare checks, making sure they’re [vulnerable people are] as best dressed as possible, their tents are in good order and they’re given foot warmers and hand warmers.

“In those situations, our street outreach team are often the last person that individual will see at night and the first person that they’ll see in the morning. Because we want to make sure that people are safe.”

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Boyle Street also runs a warming bus and a crisis diversion van. The van responds on-demand to the 211 calls, while the warming bus goes to specific locations every day.

READ MORE: How rare is Edmonton’s extreme cold snap? Debunking weather myths

City of Edmonton

The city said Wednesday that it had staff members working day and night to ensure Edmonton “remains functional.”

It said in a news release that in response to the cold temperatures, all ETS express buses would be making all stops, with the exception of routes 15, 100, 133, 747, and all regional routes.

The city also reminded Edmontonians to drive to the conditions and move to the right for emergency vehicles.

It also said that snow plows and sanders have been applied more than 8,500 tonnes of sand to city streets since Jan. 8 to improve traction.

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The city said that it was also prioritizing animal protection calls for animals in distress.

Alberta SPCA

The Alberta SPCA has seen a record number of calls for animal distress complaints this week.

A spokesperson said that there were 31 complaints on Monday, with another 30 in on Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Many of the complaints are related to the cold, and animals without shelter. Anyone with concerns about pets without shelter should call the Animal Protection Line at 1-800-455-9003.

The agency shared a picture of three cats it had to rescue from the Thorsby area who were using old vehicles as shelter.

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One of three cats who were rescued from the cold in Thorsby by Alberta SPCA.
One of three cats who were rescued from the cold in Thorsby by Alberta SPCA. Courtesy / Alberta SPCA
One of three cats who were rescued from the cold in Thorsby by Alberta SPCA.
One of three cats who were rescued from the cold in Thorsby by Alberta SPCA. Courtesy/ Alberta SPCA
One of three cats who were rescued from the cold in Thorsby by Alberta SPCA.
One of three cats who were rescued from the cold in Thorsby by Alberta SPCA. Courtesy / Alberta SPCA

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