EDMONTON -- Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson says he needs the province to "make a decision now" on boosting shelter capacity as a way to limit COVID-19 spread through the city's homeless population. 

"I’m increasingly concerned that the risk is only escalating as we await a firm decision from the province," Iveson said. 

"Self-isolation is almost impossible for those living on the streets and shelters have had to reduce their capacity due to social distancing directives." 

Iveson says the city could activate a number of its facilities to use as a shelter, but needs AHS help to ensure proper public health safety measures exist for visitors and workers.

The mayor said he "pled" with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to authorize Alberta Health Services to assist the city with opening facilities to allow the homeless to self-isolate, though the decision lies with the province's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw. 

"I don’t want to wait for the weekend,” said Iveson. "I simply want a decision." 

Dr. Hinshaw addressed the issue during her daily COVID-19 update on Thursday, saying finding help for the homeless was a "top priority" for the government. 

" We have challenges we need to overcome and that slows things down more than we would like, but I can tell you it’s a top priority to get appropriate housing for those who are homeless and may have symptoms," she told reporters. 


Advocates are appealing to governments to establish safe spaces for homeless people to self-isolate, in accordance with instructions from public health authorities to contain the spread of the virus.

“There have been closures, recommended and issued, that greatly affect people experiencing poverty and homelessness,” reads a statement from the Bissell Centre.

So far, the city has resisted calls to follow Calgary and Red Deer in declaring a local state of emergency.


The centre says it’s had to suspend all volunteer activities and group programming and has also closed its daycare centre.

“We want to assure our supporters, staff and community members that we are doing everything in our power, organizationally, to be on top of the changes.”

There are more than 1,600 people dealing with homelessness in Edmonton, according to the most recent data.


On Tuesday, Edmonton activated the city's emergency operations centre, a dedicated facility that coordinates communication between emergency services including fire crews, police, as well as power and utilities companies. 

City staff are monitoring a number of factors in considering if a local state of emergency is needed, including:

  • If the police and fire departments need more power than usual
  • If community spread of COVID-19 dramatically increases
  • If local resources and services become overly strained