Calgary offers cash boost to help homeless keep warm this winter
Calgary city administration will provide $750,000 in one-time funding to the Calgary Homeless Foundation to increase access to emergency shelters this winter, which may include warming shelter spaces.
The unanimous decision was passed by the community development committee Wednesday afternoon.
Many presenters from outreach communities expressed concern over an unclear increase in rough sleepers on Calgary streets.
"We are already starting to see amputations and the weather just started to drop," said Chaz Smith, president of Be the Change YYC Street Outreach, who has experienced homelessness himself.
He presented in council chambers suggesting the city should create warming centres at CTrain stations, city busses, and underground heated parkades.
Smith added not every person sleeping outside can access an overnight shelter for a number of reasons, which may include: security risks, pet prohibitions, and gender-separated-sleeping quarters that force couples apart.
He added that vulnerable people need the ability to warm up outside of overnight shelter stays as the winter presents increased risk.
"Thirty seven per cent of all frostbite discharges from the hospital are people experiencing homelessness and 50 per cent of the time they receive amputations so this is a large amount of valuable human life that is impacted negatively," said Smith.
WINTER WEATHER SUPPORTS FOR ROUGH SLEEPERS
Smith's organization is not a direct recipient of the city funding as it is the Calgary Homeless Foundation that will work with stakeholders in the coming days to determine winter weather supports for rough sleepers. That may include warm-up solutions or expanded access to short stays at existing shelters and outreach groups.
The Drop-In Centre offers compassionate access for non-clients when the temperature hits -10, "unless this individual poses an extreme safety risk to other clients or staff," reads an emailed statement from Executive Director Sandra Clarkson.
It continued, stating that "safety is a priority at the DI, and we continually are examining our processes internally to ensure that we have as few barriers to accessing shelter as possible. We look forward to working with the Calgary Homeless Foundation and other community partners, including outreach groups, to create safe spaces for all that need them through the winter months and work towards longer-term solutions as a community."
'MEET PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE AT'
Ward 7 Councillor Terry Wong says helping keep vulnerable people warm is not just an issue for the downtown core, but he wants to see support offered to meet people where they are at.
"We need to get out there and reach out and say, hey, there are shuttle services that are available whether that's offered through the DOAP (Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership) team and I am hoping that Calgary Transit can offer shelter busses that pick them up, and then are able to bring them to the right facility for the right type of needs that they have," he said
Beyond funding for one winter season, several councillors also pointed out there is more work to do to address the chronic issue of homelessness.
"This is a start to addressing challenges faced by unhoused Calgarians, but is by no means, a radical shift in how and where we offer warming centres. My sincere hope is that we continue to explore opportunities outside of the traditional shelter system," said Ward 11 councillor Kourtney Penner.
Calgary's Mayor's office says it is aware the issue of warming centres, shelter spaces and affordable housing are priorities over the coming weeks.
With files from Mark Villani
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