A warm reprieve for Edmonton's homeless during cold snap

Boyle Street Community Services operates a bus that serves a travelling drop-in centre for the homeless population living outside of the city centre.

'It’s a safe place where you can just sit and be warm and maybe even sleep for 15 minutes without worrying'

Edmonton's Boyle Street Community Services has a bus that serves as a mobile drop-in centre for homeless people, allowing them to warm up when it's cold out. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC)

One bus travelling the snowy streets of Edmonton seeks out passengers  who have been standing out in the cold for far too long — and lets them on free of charge. 

Boyle Street Community Services has been operating a warming bus stocked with hot meals and outerwear as a travelling drop-in centre during the winter months for the past 12 years.

At first it was just a minivan, but a larger vehicle was required to serve the needs of the homeless population living outside the city's core. 

Stephen Inglis has been working on the bus for seven years. 

"People who are living outside of the inner city don't have access to many of the services," he said. "They don't necessarily get the calories they need to keep their energy up. They don't necessarily have access to blankets, coats and socks."

Stephen Inglis has worked on the warming bus for seven years.

The bus travels to every corner of the city, often parking for a few hours outside bottle depots.

Anyone who gets on is offered a cup of noodles, a sandwich, warm clothes — and whatever else they may need, including first aid.

"If you're gathering bottles, you're jumping in and out of the bins, you get cuts and infections," Inglis said.

"Things that we take for granted, like basic hygiene equipment that you might be able to get at an inner-city agency — out here in the west end or south side, not so much."

Amy Johnson dropped off her bottles and stopped by the bus for a much-needed meal.

Amy Johnson has come to rely on the bus for a warm meal — and to warm up.

"Unfortunately, being an alcoholic you do what you have to do," Johnson said. "We pick bottles to stay warm and we come down to this specific bottle depot because we know that there is a van here that will give us something to eat and let us sit inside for a little bit."

Inglis said he sees about 60 to 80 people a day.

He's grown to know many of them. He said they opt not to stay in shelters to maintain their privacy. 

He hopes they fully relax on the bus, an opportunity they don't often get.

"It's dangerous being a homeless person. They live really harsh lives. There is a lot of violence, all kinds of dangers," Inglis said, adding the bus offers a temporary reprieve.

"It's a safe place, where you can just sit and be warm, and maybe even sleep for 15 minutes without worrying about people stealing your stuff."