Homeless Calgarians worried about COVID-19 in shelters
CALGARY -- There are a number of homeless shelters in Calgary but some people still opt to stay outdoors, even when the temperature dips.
It’s been 12 years of living on the streets for one Calgarian. He has asked CTV to not use his name due to embarrassment and a fear of being denied services if he publicly complained.
He sleeps outside and prefers it to any of the shelters, especially during the pandemic.
“I’m scared of catching COVID-19 due to the fact there’s a lot of homeless people there that might have it," he said. "It’s a high percentage I was told. I decided not to stay there."
While positive cases of the coronavirus haven’t yet been confirmed among Calgary's homeless population, some share the same fear of becoming infected.
To limit the spread, the TELUS Convention Centre opened as an overflow shelter to accommodate clients from the Drop-In Centre. That move helped to free up space in the building’s main shelter. First Alliance Church in the southeast also opened up to alleviate strain on the Mustard Seed.
The initial plan was to use hotel rooms to house the homeless during the pandemic, but that decision was couched by the province, with the minister of community and social services saying suicide prevention retrofits would have taken too long.
Chaz Smith, president and CEO of BeTheChangeYYC Outreach, says while the TELUS Convention Centre is better than nothing, he's still pushing for hotel rooms.
“People that are experiencing homelessness are still touching the same surfaces and they are using the same washrooms and the same sinks. They’re still congregating around each other in close proximity,” said Smith.
“Hotel rooms would’ve given the opportunity to actually socially distance from each other.”
The pandemic has shed a light on the need for affordable housing among the city’s most vulnerable.
The Alpha House was able to secure a hotel with 40 spaces. The shelter’s executive director says they have staff on site 24/7 doing case management and check-ins with clients. Kathy Christiansen says they have the hotel for six months and in that time have a goal to transition people into housing.
“We’ve housed about four people already and have about six on the waiting list to get into housing right now,” said Christiansen.
Two other Calgarians experiencing homelessness, who also didn’t want CTV to use their names due to embarrassment and a fear of being denied access to services, are also choosing to stay out of shelters for their safety.
They are hoping the government could step in to help them.
“Cheaper housing so we could afford it. Come down here and hand us some sort of tents, somewhere to go where we’re allowed to go, or single huts or something like that.”
Drop-In Centre officials say the pandemic is not slowing down their goal to end homelessness and in a statement to CTV say “We aim to find housing for as many folks as we can, because now more than ever, we know housing and health are deeply connected.”
The Centre is seeking landlords with units between $300 and $900 to email firstname.lastname@example.org