Kenney pledges province will help house homeless during COVID-19 crisis

Premier Jason Kenney has pledged to provide funding to help shelter homeless people in Alberta. 

Edmonton's Expo Centre will be put to use as overflow facility, premier says

Premier Jason Kenney has pledged to provide funding and frontline medical staff to help shelter and care for homeless people in Alberta. 

The province will secure locations and work with community and social services, he said Friday morning.

In Edmonton, the Expo Centre will be used as an overflow location, Kenney said.

"I am pleased to inform the House that the emergency management committee of cabinet accepted recommendations this morning to work with the cities, to provide services and funding support for alternative locations for the homeless shelters, as well as back-up locations for prospective quarantines for the homeless," Kenney said in the legislature.

He said Alberta Health Services frontline staff will provide medical support and public health support at locations used to house the homeless during the pandemic. Staff with Community and Social Services will also help out, he said.

The minister of community and social services, Rajan Sawhney, said Homeward Trust will co-ordinate staffing at the Expo Centre and will work with AHS to provide health services. Shelter providers in Edmonton such as Hope Mission and the Mustard Seed plan to maintain their operations, she said. 

Kenney later said Friday afternoon the two social services have identified community spaces to allow for social distancing and increased demand. 

"The Expo Centre will be activated as a location for people with illness," he said, adding that a separate area will also be set aside for those not showing symptoms of COVID-19.

At a special meeting of city council Friday afternoon, interim city manager Adam Laughlin said Edmonton is currently setting up the space and expects it to be operational Monday.

Laughin later Friday said the city's declaration of a state of local emergency was motivated to support the Expo Centre operation.

"This gives us the ability to in a controlled and respectful way ensure that we're supporting our vulnerable community to move to the locations that are appropriate based on the conditions they're in," he said.

Medical treatment will also be provided if needed, Laughlin said.

Kenney also said the Mustard Seed and Calgary Drop-in Centre in Calgary are working with community and social services to block book hotels for additional space.

Half of a previously-announced $60-million civil society fund is dedicated to supporting the provincial effort, according to the premier.

He initially made the announcement during question period amid criticism of the way the province is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The funding announcement came less than a day after Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson called out the province for what he said was a slow response to dealing with the city's homeless population. 

"I'm really grateful that the province heard our community's plea to give the city a green light to activate this critical centre to keep our most vulnerable people safe," he said Friday.