Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz said Tuesday that although the province has to date not had any confirmed COVID-19 cases in shelters for Albertans who are homeless, her government is committed to protecting vulnerable people during the pandemic and may increasingly look at how to use hotels to do so.
“We are working closely with municipalities, shelter operators and local AHS officials to identify and begin to use hotels and motels as assisted isolation centres,” Schulz said. “We now have identified nearly 200 hotel rooms to shelter people who test positive for COVID-19 in addition to the 200 spaces at the Expo Centre in Edmonton.
“Most of these hotels are now operational and accepting clients.”
In Edmonton, plans are already in the works to have the Coliseum Inn converted into temporary housing for the city’s vulnerable amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 98-unit hotel will be leased to Boyle Street Community Services, with assistance from Homeward Trust Edmonton, to operate as a “bridge housing option” for people waiting to be placed in permanent homes.
“Housing is a top priority for helping at-risk individuals out of poverty, so we continue to focus our efforts on moving people out of the shelter system and into their own homes,” Schulz said.
“Shelter operators and community-based organizations are leading this important work and since this crisis began, more than 400 people have now found housing.”
Schulz also noted that her government is aware there is expected to be an increase in domestic violence during a public health crisis.
“So we have provided grants totalling $5 million to women’s emergency shelters, second-stage shelters, elder abuse shelters and family violence counselling and outreach programs across the province,” she said. “Funding will be used to help families access hotel rooms for safe isolation, to pay for food, transportation and other important needs.
“Shelters can also use this money to hire temporary staff to improve access to their services and ensure the supports they offer align with physical distancing requirements.”
Schulz said her government has already received 800 applications from charities and not-for-profits who work to support vulnerable Albertans to access $30 million in funding that her government is making available to such organizations.
She said the application process would be suspended Tuesday at 6 p.m. in order for those applications to move forward to the assessment process, which will determine how the funds will be distributed.
Schulz said another $30 million has already been distributed to homeless shelters and women’s shelters across Alberta.
The minister also called on Albertans, particularly teachers, to watch for signs of child abuse or neglect.
“Please be extra vigilant in your neighbourhoods and in your communities,” Schulz said.
“We need your help to recognize where children may be at risk and where we need to reach out to help them.”
–With files from Global News’ Allison Bench