In its first week, the Edmonton Convention Centre is seeing an average of 317 people each day come through its doors, as two homeless encampments start to dismantle in Old Strathcona and Rossdale.
Since opening a week ago on Oct. 30, the temporary, 24/7 accommodation at the Edmonton Convention Centre “has welcomed an average of 317 people per day for meals, showers and other services at the day drop-in shelter,” city spokesperson Carol Hurst said Friday.
“An average of 157 people per day have stayed overnight, with nearly 200 people last night. Capacity at the day drop-in and overnight shelter increases to 300 today.”
The facility is being run by the city, Boyle Street Community Services, The Mustard Seed, Bissell Centre and the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society. It is expected to remain open until March 31, 2021.
“Services have scaled up over the past week as staff have been hired,” Hurst added. “Services available as of Nov. 6 include access to housing, mental health, addictions, overdose prevention, Indigenous, cultural, youth support services and laundry facilities.”
Anyone experiencing homelessness can use the Convention Centre site. They will be screened for COVID-19, according to the city.
Halls A, B and C on the Assembly Level of the Edmonton Convention Centre will allow for physical distancing.
The city has ramped up efforts to address homelessness in recent weeks and months, after large encampments were established in the Rossdale and Old Strathcona areas — Camp Pekiwewin and Peace Camp.
The city estimates about 2,000 people are experiencing homelessness, with 600 sleeping outside or unsheltered on any given night.
The Peace Camp has been set up in Old Strathcona for months — first at Wilbert Mcintyre Park then at Light Horse Park.
Camp organizers gave the city an end date of Oct. 31 and on Thursday there were still about 35 to 40 people living at the site.
“We knew it was coming this morning but again, a lot of people don’t want to cross the river,” Peace Camp volunteer Christina Usborne said. “A lot of sadness and not sure what they’re going to do.
“They were really unsure because a lot of the other shelters run the same kind of system. They are expecting it (the Convention Centre) to be exactly the same as everywhere else — no privacy — that’s a big thing. In a tent they have privacy. In a room full of 300 people they don’t.”
“The Camp Pekiwewin encampment in Rossdale is in the process of winding down,” Hurst said. “The organizers are withdrawing support services on Nov. 6 and holding a formal closure ceremony at the site on Nov. 7.”
That will include a small rally and a round dance, according to Camp Pekiwewin spokesperson Shima Robinson.
“It’s basically a goodbye ceremony.”
She said there are far fewer people living on the site than there was a month ago — about 50 compared to 300, Robinson estimated.
Volunteers and organizers have been telling everyone there about the resources available at different sites and helping outline the options, including the Convention Centre site, if needed.
“We’re really just equipping people with information without necessarily telling them where to go and what to do. Most people have moved off-site,” she said.
“We’re ensuring that transition is as smooth as we can make it.”
In addition to capacity challenges, Robinson said cold weather presents further issues. Naloxone, which can be used in the case of a drug overdose, would freeze and become far less effective.
“There are other tangible, reachable options for folks to live indoors for the winter. We are making that information available to those who live on the site.
“A lot of people have been housed, a lot of people are on lists and are waiting to be housed,” Robinson said.
She said the city plans to have its encampment team visit the site on Monday to work with anyone still living there.
“The City of Edmonton and its partners have worked with organizers to peacefully and respectfully wind down the encampment,” Hurst said. “The city will look towards closing the camp next week and we will provide more information about the closure process on Monday, Nov. 9.”
“Outreach workers have been working to facilitate the transition of homeless individuals into alternate accommodations, whether at the Edmonton Convention Centre, the Hope Mission and Mustard Seed shelters, or housing options where possible.
“The city has provided ETS charter busing and Boyle Street Ventures moving crew to assist the transition from the camp to these locations,” she added.
“As of Nov. 5, there have been 10 to 20 relocations through this service. Our priority continues to be ensuring that homeless people at the camp are provided with the opportunity to move to appropriate housing or shelter operations.”