Edmonton

Central LRT will remain open overnight to provide shelter from extreme cold

The city will keep the Central LRT station open around the clock for at least the next seven days during the extreme cold snap, Edmonton council was told Tuesday.

Council still seeking long-term solution for days when weather turns deadly

The Central LRT station will be kept open round the clock to provide shelter from the extreme cold. (CBC)

The city will keep the Central LRT station open around the clock for at least the next seven days during the extreme cold snap, Edmonton council was told Tuesday.

Homeward Trust, the agency that deals with homelessness in Edmonton, had announced Monday that additional emergency shelters would not be opened.

But city council debated the controversial issue Tuesday during a meeting at city hall.

Coun. Aaron Paquette pushed for the city to open an LRT station overnight, as has been done in the past.

"This is absolutely not the best alternative," he said. "But it is the alternative that will save lives."

Under the city's extreme cold policy, LRT stations can stay open all night in temperatures below –20 C.

Susan McGee, executive director of Homeward Trust, told council earlier in the day that opening LRT stations carries risks and unwanted consequences.

Opening stations carries risks, council told

A few years ago, when the city opened LRT stations, some homeless people went there instead of going to shelters.

"About 80 people would divert to the LRT rather than go to the shelter, who would normally have gone to the shelter," she said.

There were incidents of violence and people defecating in the stations, she said.

Paquette said the city had no other options.

"What's more important," he asked, "having to deal with those problems or having to deal with cleaning up someone who died?"

Opening LRT stations as temporary emergency shelters creates an inconsistent and unreliable situation, McGee noted.

"We actually set up people for an expectation that it's going to be there," she said. "Telling them that it's opened today and then closed tomorrow actually contributes to risk."

'Not a panacea'

Scott McKeen supported opening the LRT station but noted the solution is far from ideal.

"It's not a panacea," he said. "If they were staying in an LRT station, they'd be missing out on other services or opportunities that they might get at a shelter."

He said he's been getting emails from people who think the city hasn't done enough to help homeless people.

Under city policy, LRT stations can open if shelters are 90 per cent full.

McGee said smaller shelters were full on Monday night but the Hope Mission was 80 per cent full.

Paquette and other councillors agreed the long-term solution is more supportive housing.

Council also directed city administration to come up with a formal strategy and report back by the end of June.

Paquette asked for a long-term policy to help vulnerable people.

"The goal is everyone lives, everyone thrives, everyone's safe and everyone survives."

McKeen said shelters aren't open long enough.

"People are ushered out at 6 a.m. in the morning, after what I hear is not a good night's sleep."

He said there would be fewer people in homeless camps in the river valley if shelters provided more comprehensive service.

"I think this should be our last resort," he said of opening the LRT station.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Natasha Riebe

Journalist

Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.

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