As winter intensifies, a Calgary homeless outreach program is asking city council to support three proposed emergency warming centres at CTrain stations.
“We want to preserve valuable human life,” said Chaz Smith, with Be the Change YYC. “Everyone has inherent dignity and potential in our world and it’s so important we allow them a place to survive when these temperatures drop.”
Smith said the emergency warming centres would be activated when the weather dips below -10C and would be at locations in Calgary’s north, south and in the core.
He added the centres would be staffed by bylaw officers, social workers and volunteers in order to support people experiencing homelessness.
“We would provide them with mitts, toques, gloves and hand and foot warmers,” Smith explained. “That facility would allow them to warm up… but also provide them the opportunity to talk to a social worker about housing, detox and mental health concerns.”
“Ultimately, we want to end the cycle of homelessness.”
Sandra Clarkson, the executive director of the Calgary Drop-In Centre (the D.I.), said there is currently lots of room at the D.I. and explained that if the weather drops below -10 C then the facility opens for compassionate access.
“We’ve got lots of available space and we also have an overflow capability of an additional 56 spaces,” Clarkson said.
“I would strongly encourage anybody needing shelter or a warming space to come into the shelters that exist, where they can access health services, case management and housing in order to find that permanent solution to end their homelessness.”
However, Smith said there are various reasons why a person may not want to stay at a shelter and will instead choose to sleep outside.
“Sometimes there’s gang members and people who are fighting,” Smith explained. “We have women fleeing domestic abuse and they’re afraid their partner will be (at a shelter) and we have couples who are afraid they’ll be separated. So sometimes it’s not always possible to access emergency shelters.”
Smith added while some Calgarians may be concerned about an increase of social disorder at the CTrain stations, he believes increased access to supports could provide a more permanent solution.
“If we had social workers and trained outreach people, we would be able to connect with these vulnerable individuals and provide services and referrals to try and end that cycle so they don’t have to keep returning.”
“Ultimately, this is an issue of housing,” Smith said. “We’re experiencing a housing crisis where we’re not able to provide the housing that people absolutely need.”
“Until we’re able to provide that housing, these are band-aid solutions so people can stay alive until they can actually be housed.”
In a statement to Global News, the mayor’s office said ensuring the safety of all Calgarians is a priority.
“We’ve heard the communities‘ concerns about the need for warming stations,” said City of Calgary communications advisor Allison Bates. “Mayor Gondek will be meeting with organizations who provide shelter and housing services in the near future to ensure Calgarians in need have places to get and stay warm.”