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Calgary shelters will 'take in anyone' in bitter cold: mayor

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Calgary's mayor is assuring citizens that anyone who needs shelter amid the extreme cold weather can access it.

The temperature in Calgary overnight hovered at around -25 C overnight, or around -30 with wind chill.

During a scrum at city hall on Friday, Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the people of Calgary want to know that everyone has a warm place to sleep when it gets bitterly cold.

"I can tell you that the homeless-serving organizations in our city are responding in real time to ensure that people are being cared for and they have the supports that they need," Gondek said. "The extreme temperatures are very concerning to these teams."

"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."

The mayor said Alpha House's Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) Team received 18 calls from throughout the city overnight.

Of those, 15 people were transported to safe locations like shelters, but some did seek out their own arrangements.

Gondek said the DOAP Team conducted three targeted outreach efforts and located three people who were attempting to stay warm on grates near Eau Claire Market.

All three of those people refused transport, but were monitored by the DOAP Team throughout the night. Gondek saidthe DOAP Team made sure all three they had warming supplies and will be making sure monitoring "is being boosted" at this location over the weekend.

"If you see a fellow Calgarian in a place of vulnerability or in distress you can call or text the DOAP Team at 403-998-7388 or you can call 211. If someone is in serious distress or they are non-responsive please call 911," Gondek said.

ACCESSING SHELTER

The mayor said the City of Calgary's Partner Agency Liaison (PAL) Team was also out yesterday monitoring homeless camps they know of and trying to convince people to go to shelters.

Another two PAL Teams are out today and the DOAP Team is handing out food hampers and hand warmers and trying to encourage people to access shelters.

"At this temperature, anyone who needs to access shelter is able to do so. There are no bars or bans in place, they will take in anyone who needs shelter," Gondek said.

On Monday, council will further consider another investment of $750,000 in emergency funding for service providers that work with the city's homeless.

"What we are trying to accomplish with that is to provide even more service to people in positions of vulnerability," Gondek said.

"In my option, the money that we are debating on Monday, the $750,000, is going to be incredibly important to do the work that is so desperately needed to coordinate agencies to provide the type of support that people need.

"There was a very fulsome discussion around warming centres and adding some sort of an additional space for people to go. 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."

Calgary's forecast is calling for temperature to improve over the next 24 hours with an overnight low of -18 C.

Extreme cold warnings were issued for much of the province on Friday morning, including most of central and northern Alberta and parts of southern Alberta. By Friday afternoon the warnings only remained in place in northern Alberta.

DROP-IN CENTRE PREPARED

Nathan Ross with the Calgary Drop-in Centre said they're prepared, "We can safely accommodate 715 people and should we ever hit that number, we have emergency plans with the city of Calgary, and at no point will we ever turn someone away because of capacity due to the cold."

He said the shelter aims to be as low barrier as possible, "We're meeting people where they're at."

Some of the city's most vulnerable may still need convincing. Kristen Baranieski with Be the Change YYC said, "There's a lot of distrust in the system that's already in place. Baranieski, who has experienced homeless herself, said, "As a woman, I don't feel comfortable going to either of the main shelters, and I can't access  women's shelters because they're overpopulated and reserved for women with families or who are escaping domestic abuse."

She believes warming centres are a good temporary solutions to serve those that are slipping through the cracks, "If we have warming spaces, we can start to build more trust with those people who are sleeping rough."

Ross said the Drop-In Centre has opened a new program called 'The Bridge' to meet that need, "It aims to be the bridge between rough sleeping and shelter services."

The Bridge is open everday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. with staff on site to discuss available housing options and services.

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