'Learning every day': Alpha House says funding boost will help as it copes with pandemic

The $48 million in funding will be used to ensure shelters can meet public health guidelines during the pandemic while still providing services to vulnerable people, Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney announced on Aug. 5.

Alberta provides $48M to ensure homeless shelters meet public health guidelines

'I think it's been a big work in progress, we're learning every day as we go,' Paula Yule of Alpha House says of the shelter's COVID response. (Calgary Alpha House Society/Facebook)

The province has announced more emergency funding for homeless shelters during the pandemic, so that they can continue the outreach and precautions that a manager of a Calgary shelter says have been a learning process so far.

The $48 million in funding will be used to ensure shelters can continue to meet public health guidelines during the pandemic while providing services to vulnerable people, Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney announced on Wednesday.

"This means isolation and care centres will continue to operate through winter and into next spring, making sure individuals with no fixed address can self-isolate if they are sick or waiting for test results, and can receive medical care if they need it," Sawhney said. 

Alpha House, established in 1981, provides shelter and programs in Calgary for homeless people struggling with addictions.

Paula Yule, a manager at Alpha House, explained how the shelter and Calgary's vulnerable populations have been managing the pandemic on Wednesday's CBC News at 6.

"Not only does a lack of housing compromise the safety for people, but also lots of individuals that we're working with have complex physical and mental health needs," Yule said. 

"And so [we are] helping people accommodate some of those circumstances as well."

Alpha House managing COVID with outreach, education

The $48 million is in addition to $25 million in funding that was provided by the provincial government for shelters in March.

It helped shelters source personal protective equipment such as masks, ensure cleaning protocols could be met, and open eight isolation and care centres for vulnerable people, Sawhney said.

According to Yule, Alpha House has been working closely with Alberta Health to ensure its policies and procedures are up to date, and adjustments are made as needed to ensure that clients and staff are kept safe.

"I think one of the biggest things is making sure that people are … understanding what resources are available, as well as helping people talk through the anxieties and the uncertainties," Yule said.

A peer support worker co-ordinates with the Alpha House outreach team, she said, and together they work at a street-level to offer clients information on resources, provide education around safe practices regarding COVID-19 and offer food and water.

"It's been going really great, it's been really successful, and helps to build connections and reconnect with people that may not have been accessing shelter services in summer months."

Work in progress

Alpha House has still had to deal with COVID-19 directly. In May, eight cases were linked to the agency.

Representatives told CBC News at the time that it had been preparing for such an occurrence, and had engaged in extensive contact tracing to help health authorities prevent further spreading.

Now, with winter and new challenges on the horizon, Yule said Alpha House is co-ordinating with other shelters to see what options are available as more people use their services.

They are also working with their encampment and outreach teams to touch base with vulnerable people to get a sense of what their plans are for winter, and how the shelters can best be of assistance.

"I think it's been a big work in progress, we're learning every day as we go," Yule said. "And with the new information that comes out, we just kind of keep going with the flow to help people the best that we can."

With files from CBC Calgary News at 6


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