Several Calgary LRT stations are now closed 24 hours per day due to continued large gatherings and social disorder, according to transit officials.
Earlier this month, the City of Calgary announced the Southland, Heritage and Anderson stations would be closed to the public from 10 p.m. until the start of service the following day, with access to the platforms and C-Trains still available.
At the time, city officials said roughly 170 people were seeking shelter in the stations per night, and those stations lack washrooms and regular temperature control overnight.
Instead, the city would deploy resources to transport vulnerable people using the stations as shelter to local shelters and services.
But there has been a rise in what have been deemed “social disorder calls” and that has prompted transit officials to shut down indoor access to the Anderson, Southland, Heritage and Erlton Stampede Park stations.
Transit officials said the closures allow Calgary Transit to “tend to the other station buildings that people are gathering in.”
Global News has learned the 24-hour closures have been in place since Sunday evening.
According to Calgary Transit, there were “large gatherings happening throughout the day,” estimated to be around 130 people per night, and that also raised concerns about the potential spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
“With the staffing shortages that we’ve had, that close proximity, no physical distancing and very little masking was dangerous for not only the people there but for our regular ridership as well,” Will Fossen, the co-ordinator of the Calgary Transit Public Safety Enforcement Agency, told Global News.
Fossen said there were some physical altercations reported to transit officers, but many concerns were around property being damaged at the stations which needs to be repaired.
“Some of the handles were removed because there was repetitive damage to the doors that people had done,” Fossen said. “There was some damage to the inside, some public health issues on the inside that needed to be cleaned up as well.”
Calgary Transit said the four stations were the only ones that they were able to close without impacts to service.
Ward 11 councillor Kourtney Penner, who represents the area three of the train stations are situated in, said the updated closures highlight the need for more supports for the city’s vulnerable populations.
“Train closures aren’t the solution, we know that. We know that transit users need to feel safe… and we know that supports are needed for vulnerable populations,” Penner told Global News. “So we need to be balancing those three needs at the same time.”
Penner said the outreach efforts have had some success with some vulnerable Calgarians being brought to shelters and some into housing situations.
Her message to riders is to continue using Calgary Transit, but to also take a compassionate approach to the situation involving the city’s vulnerable populations.
“We’re not trying to shy away from having the hard conversations about the situation,” Penner said. “That’s where I’m looking to go and move forward is just making sure that we’re being open and honest about about what’s happening and why.”
Data from the City of Calgary showed between Jan. 10 and Jan 14, there were 303 transports to shelter services from the C-train stations, including 111 through the emergency shelter shuttle service and 192 by transit peace officers and the Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) team.
The city estimates the transports involved around 150 people who used the service multiple times.
Chaz Smith, homeless care advocate and founder of Be The Change YYC, said there is a reason that some vulnerable Calgarians are flocking to LRT stations rather than accessing shelter services available.
“I’m not sure that this will ultimately solve the problem,” Smith told Global News. “We are looking at systematic barriers, with people accessing certain types of shelters.
“Whether they can or can’t or won’t access shelters is the question that we have to understand here”
Smith said the situation is an accumulation of people experiencing homelessness that want services that “simply don’t exist.”
“What people are asking for is pet friendly shelters, a shelter where they can go with their loved one and not be separated. A shelter that is Indigenous geared… So they’re looking for an Indigenous-type of programming,” Smith said.
“We have women fleeing domestic abuse and women shelters are often completely full, and putting them in that general population can be very intimidating.”
Smith pointed to an initiative in Edmonton, which includes a temporary activation of additional shelter space in cold weather as well as a dedicated transit bus that transports people from stations to shelter spaces between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Transit officials said there isn’t a timeline in place for when the indoor areas of the stations would be reopened to the public.