Could Calgary’s homeless be turned away from packed shelters this winter?

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 brings challenges for shelters trying to prevent homeless ‘freezing to death in the snow’' COVID-19 brings challenges for shelters trying to prevent homeless ‘freezing to death in the snow’
Getting hit by a blast of cold weather is especially brutal when you don’t have a roof over your head. And as Gil Tucker reports, the COVID-19 pandemic makes finding shelter for Calgary's homeless this winter even more challenging – Oct 16, 2020

An advocate for Calgarians experiencing homelessness is voicing his concerns that the city’s more vulnerable residents could be turned away from shelters this winter as they operate at a reduced capacity amid COVID-19.

Chaz Smith is the President and CEO of Be the Change YYC, a non-profit outreach organization that hopes to help end homelessness.

Smith said he’s spoken to people living on the street who say they’ve already been turned away from shelters because they’re full – and worries the situation will get even more dire as the temperatures drop.

Read more: What to do if you see someone sleeping out in the cold in Calgary

Local homeless shelters aren’t able to take in as many clients are they used to due to health restrictions put in place amid COVID-19.

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“These shelters are already operating at half capacity,” Smith said Thursday. “Emergency shelters just aren’t able to take any new clients once they reach that limit.”

“My concern is moving forward that we’re going to continue to see people denied from emergency shelters when they fill up.”

“In winter, typically, emergency shelters – one of the largest, for example, would hold upwards of 700 individuals at the Calgary Drop-in Centre and right now they’re not able to have more than 300,” Smith continued.

Smith is pushing for an emergency shelter to be activated immediately, potentially in a local hotel.

Drop-In Centre turned people away while battling COVID-19 outbreak

The Calgary Drop-In Centre confirmed to Global News it did turn people away while dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak which had further reduced its capacity.

“While in outbreak status during COVID-19, we have been just above overcapacity,” the centre said.

However, the organization said it’s outbreak status was lifted Thursday, increasing its capacity to house 386 people on any given night.

“We are hopeful that with space for as many as 386 people, we won’t have to turn anyone away due to overcapacity during our first cold snap of the season,” the DI told Global News on Friday .

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“We are doing everything we can to maximize our space while being mindful of the risks of COVID-19, and we have been looking for additional shelter spaces in the city since June.

“With the DI’s reduced capacity due to COVID-19, it is clear that we require additional low-barrier shelter beds for people experiencing homelessness.,” the organization added.

The DI’s clothing room will reopen on Saturday and Sunday, and the organization is urging anyone in need of warm clothing to visit he main shelter between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. on those days.

Face masks will be required and hand sanitizer will be available.

The DI said it is currently in need of mitts, gloves, snow pants, winter boots, sleeping bags, new men’s underwear, $10 gift cards for Tim Hortons and furniture donations for its Free Goods program.

For more information on how The Drop-In Centre is responding to COVID-19, you can visit their website.

‘No clients have been turned away’: Mustard Seed

In an email to Global News, The Mustard Seed said “no clients have been turned away” and the organization is still able to accommodate those visiting its shelter and First Alliance Church.

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The combined total of beds available at the Mustard Seed Foothills shelter and First Alliance is 240.

The Mustard Seed said it is currently accepting monetary donations and is also in need of gloves, toques and warm clothing

For more information on how The Mustard Seed is responding to COVID-19, you can visit their website.

Alpha House ‘prepared to manage’ more clients

In an email to Global News, Alpha House also said it has “not been turning individuals away” and are “prepared to manage” a potential influx in clients as the temperature drops.

“There is always greater concern for the vulnerable population in Calgary once the cold weather sets in, but our staff are prepared, as they are every year, to support clients and ensure they have the resources and ability to stay safe.”

Alpha House’s shelter capacity with COVID-19 restrictions in place is 88 (outside of COVID-19 it is 120) plus overflow at a local hotel which can accommodate 40-59 people.

“If the public does see an individual in need of assistance or out in the cold this weekend, we do encourage them to call our Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) team at 403-998-7388,” Alpha House stated.

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Alpha House said it will help clients find out locations to stay if needed.

Alpha House is currently accepting donations of warm winter clothing like coats, mitts, and toques as well as individually packaged snacks.

For more information on how Alpha House is responding to COVID-19, you can visit its website.

– With files from Blake Lough 

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