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Edmonton Expo Centre to close as drop-in day shelter July 31

Edmonton Expo Centre to close as drop-in day shelter July 31

A temporary drop-in day shelter set up to offer services to Edmonton’s most vulnerable population amid the COVID-19 pandemic will close at the end of the month.

The City of Edmonton announced Wednesday that the shelter at the Expo Centre, which opened in March, will close at the end of the day July 31.

Read more: City of Edmonton working to get more showers for EXPO Centre COVID-19 facility

The city said an average of 675 people visited the Expo Centre on a daily basis for a meal, a shower, to do laundry or to access medical, housing or financial support.

The large facility allowed for safe physical distancing and no cases of COVID-19 have been reported to date in Edmonton’s homeless population, according to the city.

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“From the beginning of this pandemic, we were very concerned for our vulnerable population,” Mayor Don Iveson said Wednesday.

“We understood the need to keep Edmontonians safe in a physically distant way, that given the shelter spaces we have don’t normally allow for because of prior issues with crowding. We also understood the need to look at day programming options as so many other gathering spaces from city hall to libraries to malls closed.”

With the closure slated for Friday, the services will now return to community agencies with some reduction in capacity to ensure physical distancing is maintained.

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The city said security will remain at the Expo Centre until Aug. 8 and the outdoor washrooms will remain open until Aug. 14. The isolation shelter will close in mid-August and a new location will open for those without housing who have COVID-19 symptoms or a confirmed case of COVID-19 so they can self-isolate.

Read more: Edmonton EXPO Centre homeless shelter to have drop-in, COVID-19 health care services

However, the mayor expressed he and other members of council have concerns that there is not adequate space to safely distance the homeless population and offer adequate day programming in the city.

“The infrastructure of day services in Edmonton was already limited and already oversubscribed prior to the arrival of the pandemic,” Iveson said.

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“With the arrival of the pandemic and the accompanying public health strictures, the system has been pressed beyond its capacity. So without a suitable replacement to the capacity provided at the Expo Centre, individuals experiencing homelessness may be left with severely limited access to basic human needs, including shelter from the elements, food, hygiene and the ability — very importantly — to maintain physical distancing.”

Iveson said the city is ready to assist with a solution, but added the responsibility of social housing falls to the provincial government.

“We want to support this important work and we don’t want to get into another jurisdictional battle, but it must be said that housing and housing supports are the government of Alberta’s responsibility,” he said.

“We’ve had ongoing challenges to get funding in this area and we want something to work out so we can keep everyone safe.”

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Iveson said he is meeting with Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney later Wednesday evening.

In a statement Friday, the Alberta government said it is working with shelters in Edmonton to transition to 24/7 access, including day services for people experiencing homelessness.

The province said select day services at Hope Mission and the Mustard Seed are expected to be available as early as this weekend, with more services coming online in the days and weeks ahead.

“We know COVID-19 is still with us and vulnerable Albertans continue to be impacted,” Sawhney said in a news release. “This transition to 24/7 access ensures individuals have access to a safe place to stay during the day and other vital services such as food, showers and laundry.”

The province said it is still working with community partners to find an alter site for self-isolation and care once the Expo Centre closes.

About 5,500 unique visitors received services at the Expo Centre, Iveson said.