The City of Edmonton, the Government of Alberta, and the homeless-serving sector have set up temporary shelters during the winter to help people experiencing homelessness.
Tensions rose during the City’s monthly community conversation meeting about the Commonwealth and Spectrum temporary shelters on Jan. 19.
Community members are anxious, stressed, and fed up with the lack of assistance from the government in regards to security and safety.
The Commonwealth Stadium shelter currently has 150 beds available, with private rooms for residents to chat individually with medical experts about recovery supports. The shelter is open 24/7 and three medical professionals are present at all times.
Katie Bosse, a representative from The Mustard Seed for the Commonwealth Stadium shelter, says the shelter has some issues dealing with COVID-19 and staff are trying their best to support both clients and staff. Bosse says although there is a section for isolating people infected with the virus, resources to deal with COVID-19 are limited among the city.
Elliott Tanti, senior manager for communications and engagement at Boyle Street Community Services, says the Overdose Prevention/Recovery Site is not operational right now, but will open soon at the shelter. The Overdose Prevention/Recovery Site will be a place for others to use substances safely and with supervision, and will be only for people accessing the shelter.
However, the overdose response team, which looks for people who use substances and responds to overdoses inside the shelter and surrounding areas, is functional. Tanti says the team has responded to 65 overdoses since the shelter opened on Dec. 15, 2021.
Community members at the meeting were concerned about the number of overdoses and wanted to know how people staying at the shelter are getting fentanyl inside.
The Spectrum shelter on the former Exhibition grounds opened in May 2021 and has room for 150 individuals, but during extreme weather, their capacity increases to 200. Spectrum offers three meals a day and naloxone kits.
Lauren Reid, community liaison for the Hope Mission and representing the Spectrum shelter, says all demands have increased and they’re struggling with staffing shortages.
The Mustard Seed is also operating shelters in three church basements in Old Strathcona. Two of those are operating 24/7 and one is overnight only.
Donna Yateman, programs director of Eastwood Community League, wants the City to collect data on how many people in the facility are drug users and wonders if this a homeless issue or a drug issue.
Todd Jones wrote in the meeting chat: “It is also sometimes hard to identify if the incidents are from individuals directly utilizing the shelter or if they are hard to house chronic individuals. The concern is also what targeted efforts are being deployed in our larger community area within identified hot spots?”
Bosse says there is an opioid poisoning pandemic while dealing with a pandemic, and adds that there’s a lot of returning guests at the shelters.
Many community members are concerned about safety from the influx of houseless people on the street.
Christy Morin, executive director of Arts on the Ave (AOTA), had difficulty with security and safety during Deep Freeze Byzantine Winter Fête at Borden Park. Food trucks were ransacked and security firms were not willing to work with AOTA anymore.
Tanti is hesitant to correlate shelters with increasing safety concerns. He says what is possibly happening is that there are more people on the streets.
Justin Marshall, press secretary for the Alberta government’s Minister of Community and Social Services, writes in an email to Rat Creek Press:
“Ultimately, these issues are the purview of law enforcement. However, we do work very closely with our community partners to ensure shelters are a safe space for both clients and the communities where they are located. It is the operator’s responsibility to make sure their facility does not unduly impact the surrounding community.”
G Klann is frustrated with the lack of communication and he feels the community has been ignored. Klann has lived in the community for 45 years, but he has seen a drastic change over the last 15 months.
The temporary shelters are open until March 31.