Calgary

Team hits the streets to keep Calgarians warm in frigid cold

Alpha House's shelter is at capacity, and constant calls have the outreach team zigzagging across the city to connect vulnerable Calgarians with resources and get them out of the cold.

Extreme cold has shelters, DOAP team working at capacity

A Calgarian walks past the Drop-In Centre. This week's cold snap has stretched the resources of the city's homeless shelters. (James Young/CBC)

"Hello, DOAP team."

Adam Melnyk hangs up the phone after a brief conversation. "OK, so we've got a client.…"

The phone rings again.

"Hello, DOAP team."

The entire province of Alberta is under an extreme cold warning, with the wind chill expected to make it feel at times colder than –40 C. And Melnyk's phone is ringing off the hook.

Melnyk is a member of the DOAP Team, which stands for Downtown Outreach Addictions Program. The team, which is run by Alpha House, is available 24/7 to help those with addictions and no place to stay navigate the various supports available to them. 

It's Monday afternoon, and members of the team have just picked up a man named John from one of the city's hospitals. They're taking him to a downtown CTrain station, so he can get to a friend's home in the suburbs and out of the cold.

But first, he's got an important question.

"You guys have any gloves?"

They sure do. Melnyk hands him a pair of socks, too.

And then, the team is off, on their way to pick up another client and bring them to the Drop-In Centre, as Melnyk fields more calls.

Do you know who to phone if you see someone sleeping out in the cold in Calgary? The Alpha House's DOAP team is here to help, and calls to their hotline have doubled during this cold snap. 4:40

"We're trying to respond as quickly as possible and trying to prioritize our calls for sure," Melnyk said. 

He said calls come in from Calgarians who have spotted people sleeping on grates, in alleyways, or about people who are panhandling or seem intoxicated, or calls from people who have been discharged from hospital and need to get to a shelter, and vice versa.

The job has the team zigzagging across the city — connecting clients with resources and building relationships, Melnyk said. 

Around 3,000 Calgarians are currently experiencing homelessness, Melnyk said, and the weather pushed Alpha House's shelter to capacity all week. The team also experienced a significant funding cut last year.

But despite being so busy due to the cold, the concern Calgarians are showing for each other keeps Melnyk's heart warm.

"It's important that people are keeping an eye on each other, whether it's cold weather or whether it's nice outside."

The DOAP team can be reached at 403-998-7388.

With files from James Young

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