A group of Edmonton organizations that help support vulnerable people in the city is calling on officials to bring forward more options, after the Edmonton EXPO Centre officially closed its drop-in shelter program.
A joint letter signed by nine local groups, including the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights and EndPovertyEdmonton, said that the closure will lead to issues in vulnerable communities.
“While we recognize the temporary EXPO Centre was established to respond to COVID-19 needs, it’s closure on Friday July 31st is going to have severe impacts on the city,” the letter said.
“Our concern is that there will be increased loss of life, violence, abuse, and social tension.”
“We’ve always known July 31 was coming,” Renée Vaugeois said, president of the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights.
“I don’t understand why a group like us of grassroots folks are having to pull together people to mobilize around a really massive issue.”
When it announced the closure, 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.
Its closure means services will return to community agencies.
With limited capacity because of the COVID crisis, Boyle Street Community Services told Global News there will be hundreds of people without a place to go.
“That’s obviously a great worry,” program director Aidan Inglis said.
“We’re in a heatwave is one thing, but just in general what that will lead to I think is a lot of people either camping outside during the evening or setting up camps and shelters during the day throughout the city.”
Inglis noted the decrease in space for people is also concerning when it comes to preventing overdoses.
“Especially when individuals are outside around the city without staff there to respond,” Inglis said.
In the letter, the nine groups said that they have a series of “immediate” requests: they want the city and Government of Alberta to respond by supporting a joint proposal for a new long-term day shelter. As well, they want local agencies to provide more funding and support to community groups that perform street outreach. The third immediate request is for “resource mobilization” to support the local groups that provide supports to the vulnerable in the city.
“The situation in Edmonton is going to unravel very quickly in terms of safety and public health,” said the letter. “We
question the decision to move forward with the closing of the EXPO shelter at the expense of potential violence, public health and sanitation, and individual safety and security.”
The letter also calls for additional actions, including a response plan if COVID-19 affects the homeless population, as well as more temporary housing options and accessibility to masks.
“The letter was really a wake-up call — what are we doing?” Vaugeois said.
It was signed by the below agencies and groups:
● Coalition for Justice and Human Rights
● John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights
● Righting Relations Edmonton
● YEG Community Response to COVID19
● Elizabeth Fry Society
● Self Advocacy Federation
● Taccalusa Institute
● The House of Justice