Pandemic poses new challenge in fight against rural homelessness in Alberta
'They were just wandering aimlessly. There was nothing open'
The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified many of the problems and obstacles faced by those struggling with homelessness in rural areas of Alberta, according to some of those who help them.
Officials in Strathmore, a rural centre about 50 kilometres east of Calgary, say the pandemic has made it more difficult for some clients to access transportation for employment and medical-related trips into the city, as well as some social and public services.
Linda Bernicki, the town's manager of community and social development, says people struggling with homelessness in rural southern Alberta often need to get to Calgary.
"There's more opportunity in an urban area to get services and programs people at risk need versus in Strathmore, so it's just really enhanced the challenges that people face to get those services," she said.
Elizabeth Karp, executive director of the Strathmore Overnight Shelter, says recent extra funding from the province will allow the facility to keep its doors open 24/7 until the end of July.
Karp says this will provide homeless people a safe space during the pandemic, as daytime destinations such as coffee shops, libraries and other public buildings were forced to close.
"They have nowhere to go. Like, they can't go into the places they usually went into and felt safe," she said.
"With all of that closed during COVID, they were just wandering aimlessly. There was nothing open."
The shelter increased its capacity last year from 10 to 20 clients per night.
"We found last summer that people were sleeping in the parking lot because we were past our capacity," Karp said, noting the shelter has been able to remain under capacity since expanding.
Karp says roughly half of the shelter's users are locals and the rest are people passing through town.
With files from Dave Gilson