Camps wind down as pandemic shelter at convention centre opens
EDMONTON -- A homeless shelter at the Edmonton Convention Centre opened Friday, signalling the wind-down of social services at the city’s largest encampment.
Eighty-five thousand square feet of space at the event centre will house up to 300 people, officials estimate, although opening capacity will start at 160.
Those who stay at the overnight shelter will be screened for COVID-19.
They’ll have a warm place to sleep and room to physically distance, access to free monthly transit passes, and connections to community resources through the shelter’s operators: Boyle Street Community Services, The Mustard Seed, Bissell Centre and the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society.
But as the space comes online – as well as shelters at a south-side warehouse and Commonwealth Stadium – organizers of a protest camp worry what will happen to those who stay at Camp Pekiwewin once outreach services there are pulled.
“We can’t keep people warm this winter on the site reliably. We can’t keep the naloxone from freezing on the site reliably,” spokesperson Shima Robinson told CTV News Edmonton.
“Without those two things being in place, it would be endangering people for us to continue to maintain services.”
A few dozen people continue to call Peace Camp in Light Horse Park in Old Strathcona County home.
CTV News Edmonton spoke with a few residents who say they’re undecided about staying at a shelter.
“Personal autonomy,” Robinson explained.
Shelter organizers believe the system they’ve set up will eventually entice folks to give it a try, especially since there will be a focus on connecting clients with transitional housing programs.
Since March, Homeward Trust has helped 1,134 Edmontonians find permanent housing.
Ward 10 Coun. Michael Walters commented, “Housing investments are the cheaper option. I can’t say that strongly enough, and I can’t repeat that too often.”
The convention centre shelter will remain open until March 31, 2021.
The temporary accommodations will use $8 million in funding that was provided by the federal and provincial governments to help cities respond to COVID-19.
The City of Edmonton will also reallocate an additional $500,000 from its 2020 budget to help support the shelters.
Roughly 2,000 people are experiencing homelessness in Edmonton. Homeward Trust estimates 200 people become homeless each month.