UPDATE: On Feb. 10, the city extended the extreme weather response until Tuesday, Feb. 16. The decision was made after reviewing the Environment Canada forecast, shelter capacity and usage of the overnight bus service provided by ETS, the city said.
There will be at least three days’ notice before the extreme weather response is deactivated.
Effective Thursday, the City of Edmonton activated its extreme weather response.
That means two ETS bus loops will be operating overnight, travelling between emergency shelters, transit centres and other key locations.
“Community agency staff will be onboard each bus to provide support, including screening community members for COVID-19, providing masks to those who cannot supply their own, and determining the most appropriate shelter to meet individual needs,” says a statement on Homeward Trust’s website.
The service is free, Homeward Trust said.
“During this activation, ETS will also continue its practice of picking up passengers at most stops when the weather is -20C and below with wind chill.”
The extreme weather response will run a minimum of three consecutive nights and, based on the weather forecast, may continue until Feb. 13.
“The activation may include other measures if conditions call for it, and will be added as necessary.”
The forecast has Edmonton plunging to lows of -29 C on Friday and -36 C Saturday and Sunday.
Forecast highs for the next five days range from -20 C to -25 C.
“Those of us who have homes and have places where we can shelter, we get a break from the cold,” said Scarlet Bjornsen with the Bissell Centre. “The homeless population — they don’t get a break from that cold.
“It’s very isolating, it’s very hard. It presents way more challenges.”
The Bissell Centre has increased its capacity from 300 to 350 during the cold snap but the shelter is still at capacity. That’s why the overnight bus service and other 24/7 shuttles are crucial, Bjornsen said.
“Transportation is also challenging for people who are experiencing homelessness,” she said. “If you arrive at the shelter and they don’t have space or capacity for you to be there, you have to make your way to another shelter.”
Bjornsen urges anyone who sees somebody outside in distress to call 211.
“There will be a crisis team that will make their way to that person as soon as possible and get them to warmth and get them to safety.”
The Bissell Centre is in need of warm gloves, jackets and menswear. More information about donating winter clothes and other goods is available here.
“We’re always going to want to do our very best to keep community members warm and safe and so our number one priority when cold weather hits is making sure they have appropriate clothing,” Bjornsen said.
In a news release, the city said beds are still available in some shelters and overall, the system has capacity. However, more spaces are being added to increase the total number of beds available.
Mustard Seed, which is now operating shelters at CESSCO Warehouse and the Moravian Church, will also open Trinity Lutheran Church as additional overnight shelter space for 40 individuals.
Al Rashid Mosque will also provide 72 shelter spaces for the duration of the extreme weather response.