Calgary shelters have capacity during cold nights, mayor says

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A cold week for Calgary’s houseless population wasn’t without support, according to Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

“The homeless-serving organizations in our city are responding in real time to ensure that people are being cared for and they have all the supports that they need,” Gondek said.

According to the mayor, the Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) Team received 18 calls and transported 15 people to safe locations Thursday night. They also had three targeted outreach efforts for individuals who were trying to stay warm on exhaust grates near Eau Claire Market.

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“They refused transport but the team monitored these folks through the night. They made sure they had warming supplies, and they will be making sure that monitoring is boosted at this location over the weekend and will continue to encourage people to use transport to get to shelters.”

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The Partner Agency Liaison (PAL) Team was at encampment sites throughout the city, encouraging people to seek warmer accommodations at shelters.

She said there is capacity in the shelter system, allowing anyone the option to come inside from the cold.

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“There are 1,150 emergency spaces in Calgary and just over 900 people experiencing homelessness were provided with safe and warm spaces to sleep last night,” Gondek said Friday.

“Emergency shelter providers including organizations that are focused on specific needs of women and young people and a large network of other service providers worked together to make sure this happened.”

The mayor also noted that the Drop In Centre recently opened the “bridge program,” allowing people to come indoors to warm up, access warm clothing, to shower or to get some food. That program is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and has been accessed by dozens of Calgarians already.

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Temperatures at 5 a.m. on Friday morning measured -24 C with a wind chill of -30. Overnight lows for much of the week were well into the minus-20s.

Stuart Brideaux, public education officer with AHS Emergency Medical Services, told Global News the cold and wind could lead to frostbite, especially for exposed skin.

An extreme cold warning was issued in areas north and west of the city for Thursday afternoon and overnight. It was lifted midday Friday.

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Gondek said the outreach efforts continued Friday, with the DOAP and PAL teams handing out food hampers, hand warmers, and trying to convince people to stay indoors during the cold weather that is expected in the coming days.

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On Monday, city council will consider a one-time boost in funding of $750,000 to go to help the city’s homeless population. The funds are intended to help expand shelter spaces and for cold weather items like toques, mittens and socks.

Gondek said that proposal would help coordinate services for people sleeping rough, but is unlikely to result in the creation of warming centres following a “fulsome discussion” at committee.

“What we have heard from our experts — those that are serving vulnerable Calgarians every day — is that the best course of action is to make sure that people are able to access shelters right now,” the mayor said. “So if you have a place that people can go that is already warm and interested in providing supports, that’s where we should be taking people.”

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