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More shelter space coming, but some worry it is too late for Edmonton's vulnerable

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Six people have died in encampments since the cold weather began, as the city and provincial governments prepare further shelter capacity.

On Wednesday, the Edmonton Police Service confirmed officers removed a body around 1:30 p.m. from a tent across the street from the Mustard Seed Church. Investigators say it was non-criminal in nature.

At the same time, city council was hearing about the crisis from advocate Judith Gale.

"These are our brothers and sisters and they're dying at a fast rate," Gale told councillors.

Five others have died in encampments between Oct. 12 and Nov. 30, the city confirmed to CTV News Edmonton.

A day later, outreach workers with Boyle Street Community Services make their daily rounds checking on people experiencing homelessness in the downtown core.

They offer warm clothing, food, water and other supplies to help people cope.

Ken, a volunteer with the Mustard Seed, was also out offering warm drinks.

"We try to do what we can," he told CTV News Edmonton. "Whatever we can do to help them out. They tough it out.

"It's not easy," Ken added. "They have nowhere else to go."

'WHY WAIT UNTIL THIS HAPPENS?'

Council approved $7.5 million to open a 200-space shelter in a west-end hotel, but the space won't be ready for around a month as the operator prepares staffing and logistic needs.

The city called on the province to do more. On Thursday, the press secretary for the community and social service minister said 150 more shelter spaces are coming in addition to the 450 beds previously announced in October.

Demand for indoor overnight shelter space spikes on cold nights. The Hope Mission says 800 people stayed in its shelters Wednesday, representing 87 per cent of all available beds in the city. Al Rashid Mosque told CTV News Edmonton that it housed 48 people on Tuesday and 38 the day after.

Ken is disappointed that the city will have to "go through a few deaths" before additional shelter space is available.

"It seems like every year is the same," Ken said. "Plan for it. Why wait until this happens? Why wait until the end of December or January to start bringing them indoors? It's unfortunate."

"My heart just goes out for them," he said. "There's tents everywhere (downtown). They're losing limbs from frostbite, just from the elements." 

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