Vulnerable Calgarians removed from Sunalta LRT station during cold snap
The extreme cold in Calgary has many of the city's most vulnerable seeking warmth and shelter.
And that is leading to conflict in some situations.
Video filmed early Wednesday morning shows Calgary city workers removing a group of people from the Sunalta LRT station, just west of downtown.
The temperature was -24 C at the time and felt like -30 with the windchill.
The Calgary Drop-In Centre says it had 139 extra spaces overnight Tuesday, and often has more than enough room at its shelter.
The organization says it understands barriers that can keep unhoused Calgarians from using shelters and says it is continuing to provide the best solutions possible.
“We’re all aiming toward the same end goal which is to help people end their experience of homelessness and I think that if we can collaborate and cooperate and work in an aligned fashion, we’re going to be much more successful in that endeavour," said Sandra Clarkson, executive director of the Calgary Drop-in Centre.
"It's a complex issue and there are no simple solutions unfortunately."
The thought of hearing that unhoused Calgarians had been removed from a warm bus shelter is displeasing for people like Paul Jenson.
He spent 15 years of his life living on and off the streets and says many people are banned from shelters because of substance use and aren’t allowed in, even just to warm up.
“You're always looking for a place to stay warm, you know in the stairwells or wherever you can, but quite often I was being kicked out of there as well,” he said.
“There’s a great need for supported living housing with all the wraparound services that we can offer, that will help give these people a place to live and it helps them deal with their mental health or substance use disorders.”
Other advocates like Chaz Smith, who is the founder of homeless outreach group, Be The Change YYC, says transit and city workers need to act with greater compassion.
“I'm extremely disappointed in what I was seeing in that video, I wouldn't consider that as a humane response in the temperatures that individuals experiencing homelessness are being thrown out into,” Smith said.
“It is absolutely a risk to their life and they could be dying out in that temperature. Until we're able to solve the continuing systemic barriers that exist for the homeless, we need to provide the ability for human life to be preserved.”
Smith added that his outreach team provided basic supplies to 66 homeless Calgarians on Tuesday evening, of which 94 per cent said they were sleeping outdoors.
The Calgary Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnerships (DOAP) Team says it is continuing to work with city and transit partners to ensure homeless Calgarians can survive in the bitter cold.
“We have been working around the clock, connecting with folks in those shelters and bus platforms, doing those welfare checks and we are letting people stay in those shelters,” said Rosaele Tremblay, outreach team lead with the Calgary Alpha House
"If they do not want to go to a shelter, we are making sure that they have all the supports but we're not moving them along unless there are any safety concerns that come up in terms of themselves or for the public.”
The DOAP Team currently has 11 to 14 of its vans actively running on any given day with workers completing anywhere from 60 to 80 transfers of homeless Calgarians to warm locations.
The City of Calgary sent CTV a response regarding the video at Sunalta C-Train station late Wednesday afternoon.
"We understand that with this extreme cold weather some people are seeking warmth in our transit stations. Through our partnership with the DOAP team, we have dedicated patrols that ensure these individuals have proper access to resources and shelters. We want to be able to provide an opportunity for people to warm up while maintaining a safe environment for our customers."
Trains run daily from 4 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Late Thursday afternoon, over 24 hours after the video went public, the mayor's office issued a response that painted a different picture of the events of the previous night.
"Transit Peace Officers always respond to calls of loitering in transit shelters to check on the wellbeing of those present, especially in light of overdose issues," it said. "Officers offer to transport people to shelters if they have the capacity themselves or through the Downtown Outreach Additions Program team. Individuals do have the right to refuse transportation and are not asked to leave unless there is social disorder occurring.
"In this instance, a group upstairs in the Sunalta station was allowed to remain inside the station as they were not causing any disturbance and warming up. An individual downstairs threatened, swore and spit on officers and was removed from the station. The individual refused transportation to a shelter. Administration is currently conducting an internal review of the incident.
"Mayor Gondek and city council are very concerned about the wellbeing of homeless Calgarians and have recently allocated additional funding to provide further supports this winter."
The city’s community development committee unanimously voted earlier this month to provide $750,000 in emergency funding for homeless Calgarians this winter.
Service providers will receive those funds through the Calgary Homeless Foundation to help expand shelter capacity and provide needed winter items such as toques, gloves and jackets.
If you see someone who is vulnerable and in need of assistance call 211, or the DOAP Team at 403-998-7388.
If you see someone who is in distress or who is unresponsive, you should dial 911 immediately.