Tents moved outside Calgary homeless shelter as outreach groups field cold weather calls

Click to play video: 'Tents moved outside Calgary homeless shelter as outreach groups field cold weather calls'
Tents moved outside Calgary homeless shelter as outreach groups field cold weather calls
WATCH: Tents outside Calgary's Drop-In Centre were the subject of a response by city bylaw officers this week, as outreach groups continue to work to shelter the city's homeless population from the cold. Adam MacVicar reports – Jan 6, 2022

For the second time in two months, several tents — part of a homeless encampment outside the Drop-In Centre — have been removed, but the City of Calgary said those tents have been relocated to a safer place.

In a tweet on Wednesday evening, city officials said the tent relocation came after reports some of the tents blocked access to the shelter for emergency service vehicles.

“We are working with occupants to relocate the tents to a safer location,” the city’s tweet said. “Only tents blocking emergency vehicle access or encroaching on a roadway will asked to be moved.”

According to city officials, bylaw officers were careful when removing personal items from tents that appeared abandoned for “an extended period of time,” or if they were asked by the person to dispose of them.

It comes after tents were removed from outside the shelter in early December after safety concerns due to open flames and obstruction of access for emergency vehicles to the Drop-In Centre.

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The removal of the tents by bylaw officers drew the ire of Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek, who said the practice is “not something we will stand for in our city,” and prompted a meeting with homeless outreach advocates and the city to find solutions.

Click to play video: 'Gondek seeking change after encampment broken up outside Calgary homeless shelter

Gondek seeking change after encampment broken up outside Calgary homeless shelter change

According to Calgary chief bylaw officer Ryan Pleckaitis, this week’s response saw tents moved elsewhere in the area with supports offered to those living inside them amid the ongoing frigid temperatures.

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“Ideally, we want people to move into the shelter system or into a treatment facility if they need that support… as opposed to residing in a tent outside, especially with the weather the way it’s been for the past few weeks,” Pleckaitis said.

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“We recognize that there’s a number of reasons why people are choosing to stay in that environment and it’s our job to make sure that while they’re there, they’re in a safe place.”

The frigid and prolonged temperatures have been challenging for the city’s homeless population, and have prompted calls to both paramedics as well as local shelters.

Calgary EMS said it has responded to 31 cold weather related calls since New Year’s Day in and around the downtown core, with a series of calls related to frostbite.

“It’s been so cold recently and the wind chill has been so severe that in just minutes, even mild frostbite can take hold, and that can be limb threatening,” EMS spokesperson Stuart Brideaux told Global News on Thursday.

It’s been a similar and challenging situation for local homeless outreach groups as well.

According to the Alpha House, their volunteers are fielding between 60 and 80 calls per day related to the cold and that doesn’t include “sweeps” the team does in an effort to connect with people in need of services.

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“Our teams are managing crisis situations with regard to the weather on top of being stretched due to the pandemic,” Alpha House spokesperson Shaundra Bruvall said in a statement to Global News.

“We are continually working with our partners in the sector as well as city services to ensure anyone wishing to connect to services is safely able to do so.”

The Mustard Seed said traffic at its shelter locations has increased due to the cold weather.

The shelter’s street level and volunteer manager Andrew Gusztak said the frigid temperatures are a double edged sword, as the conditions outside are dangerous for its clients but more visits to the shelter lead to “some success and moving people in the right direction.”

Gusztak said the shelter has ramped up its downtown warming center with increased food options and warm clothing for their clients.

We have our transportation available, with our warming rooms with extended hours,” Gusztak said. “We believe we have everything needed to help people get right off the streets if they’re out there freezing.”

Meanwhile, the Drop-In Centre, where the tents are located outside, said its doors are open for anyone in need of support as the shelter continues to have capacity.

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“The DI continues to allow access to everyone that chooses to shelter with us other than those who pose extremely safety risks to staff and other clients, and we continue to have capacity at the main shelter facility,” Drop-In Centre spokesperson Nathan Ross said in a statement. “Additionally, our clothing room is open on a daily basis right now to get warm clothing to those who need it.”

“We’re not leading with peace officers and police officers,” Pleckaitis said. “We’re leading first with social service workers and supporting individuals before we’re removing encampments or any materials in the area.”

Calgarians who may see anyone struggling in the cold temperatures are urged to contact the Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) at 403-998-7388 or emergency services by calling 911.

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