According to Iveson, the city is not in a position to set up a shelter without the support of Alberta Health Services staff to run it. AHS can’t move forward with anything until given the go-ahead from the provincial government.
“While we appreciate the provincial government’s continued efforts to engage us on this public health crisis, delays on decision making at the provincial level are hindering Edmonton’s ability to act swiftly and proactively to protect people who are experiencing homelessness and, in turn, the broader population from COVID-19,” Iveson said.
“I need the province to make a decision now.”
One segment of the population that’s of great concern to many is the city’s homeless. It’s hard to self-isolate when they don’t have a home to go to. Shelters and other facilities struggle to accommodate social distancing. Access to hand-washing facilities or hand sanitizer is another struggle the population is facing.
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Iveson echoed those concerns, saying he was concerned about the virus possibly overtaking emergency responders or the health-care system.
“The virus is not beholden to any constraints,” he said. “If our homeless population is not protected, the virus may spread to other communities in Edmonton and therefore presents a clear and present risk of overwhelming our emergency responders and the health-care system.”
According to the mayor, the city and its agency partners stand ready to active an appropriate facility as a shelter, but the city wouldn’t be able to handle an undertaking like that without the support of provincial outlets.
“This option has been before the government of Alberta for several days. I want the city to take action on this, but without Alberta Health Services embedded in the intake to manage public health risks, the risks of concentrating so many people in one place would be too substantial for us to take on our own.”
Iveson was hoping for good news for the city during the province’s daily COVID-19 update, but it didn’t come.
On Thursday, Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said there were teams of people working behind-the-scenes trying to get the appropriate sites sourced and set up to support that population.
“There are challenges that we need to overcome and sometimes that slows things down more than we would like,” Hinshaw said. “I can tell you that it’s a top priority to get appropriate housing for those who are homeless and may have symptoms, particularly for preparing for cases where we may have positive COVID cases in that particular population.”
Iveson said there are a number of facilities that stand empty that would make excellent temporary shelters, but wouldn’t speculate on which could be used.
“I think I’d leave it to the experts to determine on the advice of public health officials what’s the best answer there. But certainly, I’m confident that the city stands ready to activate whatever facilities are needed.”
As part of the federal economic plan, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced just over $157 million for homelessness supports. The province has promised $60 million in one-time emergency funding through family and community support services.
Part of that will be directed to homeless and women’s shelters.