Calgary·Video

'We can't find them all': Outreach team works to help homeless Calgarians camping in the cold

As a bitterly cold wind cuts through a stand of trees near a southeast Calgary industrial park, the Alpha House Encampment Team finds Dany Moffett riding it out in his small tent, wrapped in a cocoon of old sleeping bags.

Encampment team members say they've identified about 60 current campers sleeping out in 45 sites

As a bitterly cold wind cuts through a stand of trees near a southeast Calgary industrial park, the Alpha House Encampment Team finds Dany Moffett riding it out in his small tent, wrapped in a cocoon of old sleeping bags. 0:35

As a bitterly cold wind cuts through a stand of trees near a southeast Calgary industrial park, the Alpha House Encampment Team finds Dany Moffett riding it out in his small tent, wrapped in a cocoon of old sleeping bags.

Team members check on him once a week, sometimes bringing food, clean socks and an open-ended offer for a ride to a shelter or appointment.

Today it's Kevin Fuglewicz and Diana Adamo who've been searching the bushes with two bylaw officers.

Fuglewicz says these visits give campers a link to health care, social services, shelters and housing.

"They decide to kind of isolate themselves," he said.

"They go do their own thing. They feel safe and they feel comfortable, but in the end it's high risk, and that's why we're out here to try and help them out."

Alpha House Encampment Team Outreach Worker Kevin Fuglewicz. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

He says that risk includes recent cold snaps.

"In my time doing this I've seen guys lose fingers. I've seen guys lose legs. We do a frostbite every year," he said.

Moffett's camp is tidy and well-cared for. He's been sleeping rough — spending his nights in a tent — for more than three years.

"I go into shelters if it gets too cold, but I can't stay too long because I get depressed," he said.

"I don't have a home, but at least I feel like I got a home, so I feel like a somebody."

Encampment team members say they've identified about 60 current campers sleeping out in 45 sites around the city.

But they suspect there are many more, and that's one reason they've stepped up their daily search and help efforts to find new campers and assist the ones they know.

Alpha House Encampment Team member Diana Adamo. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Diana Adamo says the work requires patience and that many campers suffer from what she calls "system fatigue."

"When you're homeless you're constantly on a waiting list, whether that's for housing, whether that's to get into a shelter, to see a doctor," she said.

"We want to start setting goals with them. Maybe they need a new ID. Maybe they need to get to CUPS (an agency dedicated to helping Calgarians deal with the challenges of poverty) to get to a doctor's appointment, things like that."

She says one of the main goals is to help them out of the bush and into a home.

While some campers simply choose to live outdoors, the team says it works with others who have mental health issues or drug problems.

James Pitts weathered the city's last cold spell in a tent in a south Calgary hill. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

James Pitts says a crystal meth addiction was a big reason he ended up alone in a tent on a southeast Calgary hill.

"You tend to disappear into the darkness," he said. "Basically having hope just slip right out of me. What brought me up there was just to get away from people."

Pitts, who has been homeless for more than nine years, says campers face dangers ranging from violence to hypothermia.

But his way out came a couple of weeks ago after the encampment team left food and a business card at his camp; eventually, he called the number.

"It was almost like the card was better than the food itself," he said.

The camps are illegal and can be dismantled, but encampment team members and bylaw officials say they've been working closely together to help the people living in them, as opposed to simply forcing them from one camp to another.

"I think it's more prevalent that we realize," said Kevin Fuglewicz.

"There's people very much tucked away which is why we want to reach out to the community at large to help us help these people.

"We can't find them all."

Dany Moffett has been living in a camp in southeast Calgary. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

As for Moffett, he'd like a break from the cold and a chance to do some laundry. He accepts an offer for a ride to a shelter today.

As he tidies up his camp, he says he'll be back.

Pitts hopes his days in the bush are behind him. He says he's working towards a job, a home and a much-needed second chance.

"I'm so happy every day that I wake up," he said.

"I'm now beginning to learn how to socialize with people more so that I can do what my passion is, which is helping people."

Alpha House is asking anyone who thinks they spotted a camp in the city to give its Encampment Team a call at 403-805-7388.

About the Author

Dave Gilson is a reporter at CBC News Calgary. You can tweet him @CBC_DAVE.