Calgary’s continuing cold snap is putting a major strain on one of the city’s already over-stretched homeless shelters.
With temperatures stubbornly staying as much as 30 degrees below average, Calgary’s Inn from the Cold is bursting at the seams, said executive director Linda McLean.
"We do have families right now in this building, in our family shelter, who are in over-flow areas,” she said.
“And we’re concerned. It’s not a sustainable system. There are not enough shelter beds for the number of families who need shelter.”
Almost every night this year, Inn from the Cold has been over capacity, its overflow spaces at local churches also full.
The shelter has been home for Louise Rheault and her son for more than month. "It’s ridiculously hard to find housing. Even in the rougher areas it’s very expensive,” she said.
Families that qualify for emergency funding are being put up in hotels while other people — entire families — are being squeezed into common areas so no one has to be turned away.
"We do our best. But I mean, you know, we've used living room space and mats and on the floor and we do whatever it is we need to do to make sure that everybody has a place to stay,” said shelter team leader Renee Greening.
The number of families staying at Inn from the Cold jumped 19 per cent last year after the flood and the tight rental market left many people in limbo, McLean said.
"We have been functioning at very high numbers throughout the winter and the duration of last year. But when it gets to this kind of weather the concerns about the what if’s — what if we don't have capacity — are more serious, and the panic sets in."
Mustard Seed offers In-Days
The Mustard Seed, another Calgary shelter, has what it calls In-Days — during which clients can stay at the facility all day — when the temperatures get as low as they were over the weekend.
“For the people we work with, people experiencing homelessness, the cold weather does really make it tough for them," managing director Cliff Wiebe said.
The Mustard Seed has been operating just a bit below its capacity, with about 330 out of 370 mats occupied, he said.
"When it’s so cold people will also find friends to stay with, or they’ll couch-surf a little bit," he said.