Edmonton hurries to open downtown shelter as Mustard Seed pitches south-side site

The City of Edmonton says it’s moving as fast as possible to get the Edmonton Convention Centre ready to open as a  24/7 homeless shelter by the end of the month, while the Mustard Seed is pitching a separate facility for the south side. 

Mustard Seed applies to run 24/7 pandemic shelter in southside industrial area

People at Camp Pekiwewin in Rossdale, many there since July, are preparing to move to indoor shelter at the Edmonton Convention Centre downtown. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

The City of Edmonton says it's moving as fast as possible to get the Edmonton Convention Centre ready to open as a 24/7 homeless shelter by the end of the month, while the Mustard Seed is pitching to operate a separate facility south of the river. 

The city is working with social agencies to operate the downtown space to accommodate COVID-19 pandemic physical distancing requirements, spokesperson Matty Flores said Wednesday. 

"While we fully expect the doors to be opened on Oct. 30, it will take time for the agencies to ramp up to the level of service that we are targeting," Flores said in an emailed statement. 

The target is to provide 300 overnight beds and space to accommodate 400 people during the day, Flores noted. 

The shelter will be funded by COVID-19 relief money from the federal and provincial governments.

At Camp Pekiwewin in Rossdale, people are gearing up to move out of the camp as the temperature continues to dip. 

Shima Robinson, the media liaison for Camp Pekiwewin, said it's impossible to say how many campers will move up to the Edmonton Convention Centre space. 

"I think there would be a fair number of people who would want to get in out of the cold," Robinson said. "That's a driving impetus."

She said many will be looking for a harm reduction space, addictions counselling and mental health support. 

Robinson said they're still in talks with the city to figure out transportation and services that will be available.

The city has not announced which agency will be in charge of operating the convention centre space. 

South-side shelter

The Mustard Seed plans to open a shelter on the south side Nov. 1 if the city approves a development permit, a city report says. 

The organization has applied for a permit to run a 24/7 shelter until May 21 at a vacant building on 100th Street and 75th Avenue. 

Dean Kurpjuweit, executive director of the Mustard Seed, said the space would accommodate up to 120 people in the homeless community south of the river. 

"Not everybody that's homeless is downtown," Kurpjuweit said in an interview Wednesday. 

"It seems that most people appreciate the fact that you need to serve people where they're at," "And there's a lot of people on the south side that require some care." 

Kurpjuweit said the site is logical because it's not in the middle of a residential area, it's close to their Neighbour Centre on 81st Avenue that provides day services and it's near a major bus route. 

"There's lots of things that made it seem like it was the right location."

Part of the permit would allow them to add a temporary building for a 10-stall shower trailer. 

The Mustard Seed plans to turn the vacant space at 9935 75th Avenue into a winter pandemic shelter starting Nov. 1. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

At a meeting Wednesday, the majority of city council accepted the proposal, which means city administration will continue to review the development permit application. 

The Mustard Seed would run the building, owned by Cessco Fabrication and Engineering Ltd., as a special-event permit, because the operation as a shelter would be temporary. 

No formal public engagement is done before administration approves a permit. 

The nearest neighbourhood is Ritchie across 99th Street. 

Dallas Bartel, communications director with the Ritchie community league, said the board hasn't discussed the proposal yet but he's optimistic that it will work. 

"We understand the need for a development like this," Bartel said. "We hope it's a positive thing for the neighbourhood and the community." 

Bartel acknowledged opening shelters in certain neighbourhoods has been a contentious issue throughout the city in the past. 

"We do our best to get as much knowledge from the Mustard Seed or the city and we hope we can relay as much information and support to the residents and merchants." 

Unlike the current 50-bed overnight space at the Trinity Lutheran Church off Whyte Avenue, the proposed space would be open 24/7.

"There's a place for them to be warm, to be cared for, to meet with housing workers and other people all day long," he said. "It's full wrap-around service." 


With files from Travis McEwan