Extreme weather response to continue helping homeless Edmontonians over long weekend

Extra shelter beds and a free overnight bus service will continue over the long weekend to ensure homeless Edmontonians have a warm, safe place to stay during the extended cold snap.

City's extreme weather response ends Tuesday as temperatures climb

Five vans are on the road round-the-clock this weekend ready to assist vulnerable Edmontonians. (Hope Mission)

Extra shelter beds and a free overnight bus service will continue over the long weekend to ensure homeless Edmontonians have a warm, safe place to stay during the extended cold snap.

The extreme weather response, overseen by the City of Edmonton and Homeward Trust, will lift on Tuesday as temperatures rise to just below freezing.

At the Edmonton Convention Centre, the Tipinawâw shelter is running at full capacity even after 50 spaces were added. Roughly 350 Edmontonians sleep there each night.

Agencies overseeing the operation, including Bissell Centre and Boyle Street Community Services, have set up two large sleeping halls and an area to grab a meal, watch television and socialize. 

Pets are permitted and there is a secure place to check belongings as well as a community closet to access clothes and hygiene products.

Scarlet Bjornson, spokesperson for the Bissell Centre, said a visit to Tipinawâw underscores the the existing need for more permanent supportive housing and mental health services in Edmonton.

"You see it clear in front of you how many people in our city really do need access to supports," Bjornson said.

"There's such a gap where these folks just need help and agencies operating Tipinawâw and elsewhere are working collaboratively to fill those gaps."

Some 85,000 square feet at the Edmonton Convention Centre is being used for the emergency shelter space, Tipinawâw. (City of Edmonton )

Additional emergency shelter space, operated by the Mustard Seed and provided by Al Rashid Mosque and Trinity Lutheran Church, will continue until Tuesday. 

That's also when service will end for the two free overnight bus routes. The city said up to 173 people used the buses each night since the extreme weather response was activated last Thursday.

Agencies are asking Edmontonians to call 211 if they see anyone who needs help or 911 if it appears to be an emergency. Vans of crisis diversion teams are also on hand round-the-clock to assist.

Kate Halsey, a spokesperson with Hope Mission, said there are five vans working at all times — up from the usual three. They're stocked with gloves, jackets, mittens, and more.

"[They're] really just trying to respond and keep an eye out for for our neighbours, who might be vulnerable or just in need of some of assistance," she said.

Halsey said the teams have been busy.

"Unfortunately that means that there are people who need the assistance, but that means that the community is keeping an eye out for them."

The Hope Mission at 9908 106 Ave. is looking for donations of socks, long johns, long-sleeved shirts, jackets, hand warmers and pants.

Bjornson said there is a great need for men's winter clothing — gloves, boots, jackets and sweat pants. Supplies can be dropped off at the Bissell Centre Thrift Shop at 8818 118 Ave. between Monday and Saturday.

Disputes and assaults

The drop in temperatures has also led to a rise in social disorder.

"There has been an increase in vulnerable population incidents and disruptions in public spaces and on transit and in some of the entrances and exits and in the stairwells of facilities as people seek warmth," city manager Andre Corbould told the mayor and council at a meeting on Wednesday.

"Disputes, assaults and conflict between people in these spaces can result, sometimes, interrupting service delivery or requiring transit peace officers or EPS involvement, or leading to threats to the safety of staff, contractors and public."

The city said several security measures have been in place since 2018, including contracting security guards at 19 bus and LRT stations, installing operator shields on buses and, more recently, a text messaging service to report incidents.