Edmonton

Edmontonians banned from transit allowed to use LRT shelter

Transit bans won't be enforced during the deep freeze for Edmontonians seeking shelter at the Central LRT station.

Central LRT open around-the-clock for those in need during cold spell

Coun. Aaron Paquette says people taking shelter in the LRT overnight won't be carded. (CBC)

Transit bans won't be enforced during the current deep freeze for Edmontonians seeking shelter at the Central LRT station.

"The decision is that no one who has been banned will be turned away," Coun. Aaron Paquette said Thursday afternoon.

A total of 322 people are banned from transit property for reasons that include loitering, theft, substance use and violence, according to the city.

Those banned for violence will be monitored closely or taken to a shelter, Paquette said.

"So, no one is going to be turned away but everyone is going to be kept safe," he said, adding that prior to the official decision, authorities had not been enforcing the ban.

Paquette successfully pushed for the city to open the LRT station overnight when temperatures plunged earlier this week.

Afterwards, Mark Cherrington, a volunteer with the Coalition For Human Rights and Justice, raised concerns about people in need of shelter who are banned from transit property.

In an interview, Cherrington argued that safety should take priority over administrative justice and if bans were not being enforced, the city needed to better communicate that.

"If in fact they're not making it known to these people, and these people are being lawful and staying away from the LRT station, then we've got a big problem, because we have a huge number of people that aren't able to access warm shelter," Cherrington said.

"If they are allowing a grace period and not enforcing these bans, then why are they making such a poor effort at letting our community know about this?"

Cherrington also asked whether those seeking shelter could expect to be carded by police or transit officers.

"If you're opening up these areas to give people access to warmth and shelter and provide them with some dignity, you'd think that they wouldn't be using it as some sort of opportunity to execute warrants," Cherrington said.
Mark Cherrington says warrants shouldn't be executed while the transit station is being used as a shelter. (CBC)

Paquette said the decision to open the Central station overnight was a fast-moving process. Once it was made, bans and random ID checks were discussed Thursday among city managers, transit officials and Edmonton police. 

"No one actually has to worry about being carded," said Paquette. "We just want everyone to know that they can come to the station, they can warm up, they can even grab a bit of sleep, if that's what they need. And there will be no discrimination."

Two dozen people have used the station each night, and fellow Edmontonians have shown up with hot chocolate and sandwiches, he said.

The operation has been "a great collaborative effort to keep people safe" by police, security, medical staff, a crisis diversion team from Homeward Trust and Boyle Street staff, said Rowan Anderson, transit spokesperson for the city.

"There have been a couple of minor nuisance disorders, but nothing significant," he said.

Downtown police officers will continue to patrol the area as they normally do, and will regularly check on the Central LRT station to assist outreach workers and people seeking shelter, a spokesperson for EPS said in a statement.

"Outside of everyday police operations, which may include responding to reports of criminal activity or concerns for public safety, the EPS does not intend to target individuals seeking shelter from the cold at Central LRT station."

Arrested on purpose

Elliott Tanti, spokesperson for Boyle Street Community Services, said a large number of homeless people don't use shelters for various reasons and some get arrested on purpose, just to have a warm place to sleep.

"Which is why we are always in favor of having more options for people to go and use, not less," said Tanti.

Al Rashid Mosque opened its doors during the extreme cold. On Wednesday, volunteers bussed a dozen people to the mosque, where they were served dinner and breakfast.

@andreahuncar

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca

About the Author

Andrea Huncar

Reporter

Andrea Huncar reports on human rights, immigrant and Indigenous communities, youth at-risk and the justice system. Contact her in confidence at andrea.huncar@cbc.ca