Edmonton

'Treated like human beings': Bus driver ferries homeless people to EXPO Centre during pandemic

An Edmonton bus driver says he’s just doing his part to help curb the spread of coronavirus by shuttling homeless people between downtown shelters and the EXPO Centre several times a day. 

'I've been given the opportunity to step up and help out in the time of need'

Derek Bailey, 37, has been working for Edmonton Transit Service for over three years. (David Bajer/CBC)

An Edmonton bus driver says he's just doing his part to help curb the spread of coronavirus by driving homeless people between downtown shelters and the EXPO Centre several times a day.

Derek Bailey, who's been driving for Edmonton Transit Service for just over three years, said he was happy to volunteer for the job. 

"I've been given the opportunity to step up and help out in the time of need," Bailey told media at an availability Friday at the Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage on Fort Road.

Bailey is one of eight Edmonton Transit drivers in the new role. They pick up homeless people from the EXPO Centre and take them back to the Bissell Centre, Boyle McCauley Health Centre or Hope Mission in the evenings. 

"It's also seeing the satisfaction that these people have, that they're being treated like human beings," he said of his new role. 

Several of the city's social agencies, with Alberta Health Services and the City of Edmonton, have transformed the EXPO Centre into a dual-purpose facility to house and provide services to homeless people during the pandemic.

Part of the building is being used as a day drop-in service. Another part is an isolation shelter for anyone who is homeless, currently using shelters and exhibiting any COVID-19 symptoms.

Staff with health and social agencies working at the EXPO Centre started accepting clients on Monday night. 

The latest on the COVID-19 pandemic from Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatchewan 13:57

Boyle McCauley Health Centre is in charge of the isolation part of the EXPO shelter. As of Friday morning, 35 people were in self-isolation and will remain there for two weeks.

On Thursday, 550 people used the day drop-in shelter, up from 424 on Wednesday. The shelter is set up to provide meals, leisure options and a safe place to have a shower.

Safety precautions

Bailey doesn't think driving the bus puts him at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus. 

"I say that with absolutely clarity and honesty," he said. "The City of Edmonton has recognized our need for safety being our No. 1 priority, and they've reinforced that to me time and time again." 

Only 15 riders are allowed at a time. ETS has installed vapour barriers for buses used to transport homeless people to and from the EXPO Centre. 

All ETS buses on the roads now have shields and the city is diligently cleaning the vehicles from front to back, Bailey said. 
An added plastic sheet called a vapour barrier separates the driver's seat from the passenger area on the bus Derek Bailey drives. (David Bajer/CBC)

"Every bus is wiped down thoroughly with cleaning solution, then afterwards it's given what we call 'fogging' of a bleach solution as well."

Passengers are asked to board through the back door. 

He said he feels as safe on his bus as he does in his own vehicle. 

Not a hero, bus driver says

Bailey was in the news last winter after he picked up a man slumped over on a bench in freezing temperatures in the Lauderdale neighbourhood.

He said then, too, that he was just doing the right thing. 

"I don't see myself as a hero," Bailey said Friday. "Honestly I think there's a lot of other people out there that would be better coined with that term than myself."

He suggested grocery clerks, truck drivers and hospital staff — including respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians and janitorial staff — could all be recognized as heroes.

@natashariebe