There is a vulnerability on the streets of Calgary which those on the front lines have never seen before. The sheer scope of desperation and survival is overwhelming.
Chaz Smith has his own lived experience with homelessness and now runs an outreach group ‘Be the Change.’
“I have been in this sector for over a decade and I have never seen this population so traumatized,” Smith said.
The team is a consistent lifeline to people living on the streets, addicted and at risk.
“A lot of these services like the Drop in Centre and Alpha House are great and they mean well, but they aren’t the solution. The solution ultimately is housing,” Smith said.
“My heart breaks because I know that is the answer for so many people.”
In one four-hour shift alone, the team used 15 separate doses of Naloxone to bring people back to life. It is a medication used to reverse the effects of opioids.
“A couple weeks ago a lady died on these steps. She was dead for 30 seconds, her heart stopped and she had no pulse and she wasn’t breathing. We managed to revived her,” Smith said.
“People are using to cope with the realities of having to survive in a climate of having to fight for food, water and washrooms.”
Street families are facing such a degree of loss, amplifying their suffering. Waylon Yellow Old Woman has lived in homelessness for almost 10 years.
“It’s just drugs, killing a lot of our people. All I can do is pray for them,” Yellow Old Woman said. “I’m an addict too, with alcohol. It’s sad.”
“One man I know was at the Alpha House and he was getting walked over and turning blue, by the time staff went in there he was already gone.”
People who live and run businesses in the East Village are concerned about the level of crime and overdoses, ever since the pandemic. Troy Winget runs Red Bloom Salon.
“There’s a lot of people hiding in the shadows in the evenings,” Winget said. “In the last three weeks there were eight break-in’s in this area.”
“This area was supposed to be revitalized. New businesses and new buildings were going to go up and we would help integrate, and the community would help. But I don’t believe we’ve done a good enough job to help these people.”
On Feb. 10, Calgary police and bylaw officers dismantled an encampment outside the Drop-In Centre. Police said it was overrun with crime and will continue patrols in the area to ensure the criminal element doesn’t return.
“We are grateful for the efforts of the many service providers and Calgary Police Service that have helped to address the unsafe encampment challenges in this area of the community,” said Clare LePan, vice president of marketing and communications of the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation. “These supports have helped our most vulnerable residents along with the overall health and continued growth of East Village.”
But the worry is what will happen to the unhoused who prefer to ‘sleep rough’.
The issue isn’t isolated to the East Village. Leslie Echino runs Annabelle’s Kitchen along Stephen Avenue.
“We had a gentleman overdose at our back door last Wednesday at 2 (o’clock) in the afternoon and he passed away,” Echino said. “That was a shock for me. That’s something I have never seen being in business for 14 years downtown.”
But as the magnitude of the problem seems to grow, the humanity is not ignored.
Our Global News team tagged along with the homeless outreach team Sunday night and saw one gentleman who said he got off the streets and was clean and returned to the area to clean up the used needles.