Calgary

Telus Convention Centre will house homeless during pandemic

The Telus Convention Centre in downtown Calgary will serve as a shelter for the city's homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic.

City wanted to house the community in hotels but was overruled, province says that's still an option

Beds set up in Edmonton's Expo Centre in order to reduce the population density at existing shelters during the pandemic. (Rajan Sawhney/Twitter)

The Telus Convention Centre in downtown Calgary will serve as a shelter for the city's homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That announcement comes after Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city was overruled by the province on efforts to house the homeless in hotels.

"We need to be able to accommodate a large number of people very quickly, and ultimately it was decided that the Telus Convention Centre is the place that will work," said Diane Carter, spokesperson for Community and Social Services. 

"Partners like the Calgary Drop-in Centre have experience in using group care sites and they are providing their expertise to help us get the convention centre up and running. The first clients are expected to move into the convention centre in the next couple of days."

'I like the hotel idea much better'

The province wants to see those in the community put up in overflow shelters in order to limit crowding in the current shelter spaces, while the city wanted to see vacant hotels put to use in order to enhance isolation. 

"I don't want to belabour the point because ultimately this is a decision for the provincial government in conjunction with the shelters, I gotta tell you I like the hotel idea much better," said Nenshi on Monday morning. 

"It's roughly the same costs, it certainly works much better for isolation and, you know, for a lot of folks, I think it would be a very positive mental health intervention in tough times to have your own shower, to have your own door."

The Mustard Seed, one of two large shelters operating in the city, has already announced the First Alliance Church in southeast Calgary as its overflow location.

Hotels not ruled out entirely

Moving homeless people into larger shelter-like settings has already happened in Edmonton and Red Deer. 

Carter, however, said the province has not ruled out hotels entirely. 

"In working with community organizations. There are a number of examples where hotels have been selected as the best option," she said. 

"Hotels require retrofitting to ensure that they can be used as shelter or isolation spaces, and that takes time."

She said CUPS and the Alex will open space in a hotel for those requiring isolation next week, and Alpha House has already moved clients into a hotel. 

Two approaches, monitoring key

Mike Parkins, an associate professor in the departments of medicine and microbiology, immunology and infectious disease at the University of Calgary, said both approaches have their merits and it all comes down to implementation. 

If larger facilities are used, as opposed to hotel rooms, there is greater risk of congregation and so those within the facilities will require monitoring and enough room to maintain physical distancing, he said. 

Nenshi, for his part, says he'll be doing his own monitoring, watching as the two parallel policies are set into motion.

"Ultimately, the powers that be have chosen an alternate route for now and we're going to be watching this very, very closely," he said at an update on the city's response to the pandemic later on Monday. 

Clarifications

  • The province originally said the Mustard Seed would be opening an isolation facility, but later clarified that the facility would be operated by CUPS and the Alex.
    Mar 30, 2020 7:46 PM MT

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