Edmonton

New showers installed at Expo Centre shelter after week of issues

After some initial challenges, the temporary shelter at the Edmonton Expo Centre now has improved amenities for the hundreds of homeless people using the facility during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 drop-in centre used by hundreds of people each day

Nearly 20 new showers have been installed at the Expo Centre shelter. (Elliott Tanti/Boyle Street Community Services)

After some initial challenges, the temporary shelter at the Edmonton Expo Centre now has improved amenities for the hundreds of homeless people using the facility during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Expo Centre has been used as a day drop-in centre and isolation shelter since late March but the centre's amenities needed to be improved to keep up with the demand. 

Last week, one patron told CBC News he hadn't been able to take a shower in more than a week and that laundry facilities were lacking.

Previously there were just four shower units available in the drop-in centre and eight units in the isolation centre as well as six washer and dryer units for a facility that serves hundreds.

But the centre's facilities have been improved. 

Nearly 20 new showers were installed by social agencies and there are now 30 shower stalls throughout the centre.

The centre has 13 washer and dryer sets, 40 portable toilets and 28 handwashing sites, the city said. 

The city confirmed the shelter was having problems with water supply and mechanics.

Jackie Liu, operations director at Boyle McCauley Health Centre, said the portable showers had to be refilled manually and the cold temperatures led to frozen lines.

"This place was put together in a space of four days, so some of these things were just logistical glitches that needed a bit of time," he said.

Social workers spent much of the first week setting up operations, building computer systems, and getting pharmacy services set up, Liu said.

"We've actually had the opportunity to catch our breath, develop some processes and as all those things become standardized and our staff become more used to working in that space, things are getting a bit better."

The number of clients using the day drop-in side fluctuates between 450 and 650 individuals per day.

The centre also has an isolation shelter for anyone who is homeless and exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

As of Wednesday, 62 clients were in that part of the shelter, down from 71 on April 1. 

Liu said there was originally some miscommunication about the purpose of the isolation shelter. 

"I think one thing as we get more established is that we've had, I would say, more of the appropriate referrals coming through," Liu said. "There's less people coming here just for general shelter." 

Liu said during the first week or so of operation, people arrived with the belief that the isolation section was an overflow shelter.  And some people showed up who were not deemed homeless, he said. 

"If you're healthy, you don't want to be here," Liu stressed. 

Agency workers continue to test those with COVID-related symptoms but due to privacy laws, they cannot reveal how many, if any, have tested positive.

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