Lack of money puts brakes on warming bus for Edmonton homeless

Boyle Street agency hopeful that the warming bus, which offered hot soup, extra clothes and a respite from the cold, will be back on the road this winter

'The number of folks sleeping outside as a result will probably increase'

Community members speak out about the cancellation of Boyle Street's winter warming bus. 0:51

One of the most welcome sights for Jimmy Grant in recent Edmonton winters was the warming bus that offered warm clothes, hot soup and drinks, and a respite from the elements.

He's been homeless for years and feels safer sleeping outside rather than surrounded by others at the shelters. The bus, operated by Boyle Street Community Services, allowed him to escape from the cold for a bit.

"It gave you hot soup, hot chocolate, sandwiches," he said, huddled next to a shopping cart which contains all his belongings. "It kept me going." 

But this year, the bus is still gathering snow in a parking lot north of Edmonton's downtown while Boyle Street officials try to figure out how to raise about $100,000 needed to get it back on the road.

Jimmy Grant used to enjoy the hot soup and sandwiches on the winter warming bus, which also offered winter clothes. (Sam Martin/CBC)

"Currently the bus isn't running. We don't have complete funding for the project," said Aidan Inglis, director of programs at Boyle Street.

During its five-and-a-half months of operations last winter, Grant was one of 1,317 people who used its services at some point. In all, there were almost 6,000 visits to the bus.

"It would give you lunch," said the 59-year-old Grant. "Give you some good gloves and coats. It all helps."

The bus, which has been running for the past 10 years, was considered a vital resource for homeless people outside of the inner city.

In addition to its other services, it would also take a daily route to check up on them and offer rides to the shelters.

"The number of folks sleeping outside as a result will probably increase," said Inglis, who still hasn't given up hope of getting the bus on the road. He estimates about $100,000 needs to be raised to make it happen.
Aidan Inglis, with Boyle Street Community Services, said about $100,000 is needed to get the bus on the road for the rest of the winter. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

Last year, a number of partners came up with cash to get the bus running when the Homeward Trust Edmonton organization decided it couldn't continue to fund it.

Homeward Trust's priority is its housing programs and extended winter hours at drop-in shelters around the city, said Susan McGee, the organization's chief executive officer. 

"Those are tough decisions," said McGee. "If we were to look at the bus, we would have been closing those drop-ins."

McGee said the drop-ins — located on the west end, south and north sides and the inner city — provide essential services.

Homeward Trust is already funding $900,000 in winter emergency programming, added McGee, suggesting other benefactors would need to step up.

"We couldn't do it all," McGee said.

Inglis said he is in talks with other potential partners to try to get the bus running for the rest of the winter.
People shown on the winter warming bus in December 2016. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC)

CBC running clothing drive for new socks, gloves and hats

Jimmy Grant said he might need to panhandle a bit more now to buy his own soup, and he will try to find other places to warm up.

"I'm OK. I'll survive," he said.  

Grant still gets help from kind-hearted Edmontonians who spot him taking shelter by his shopping cart.

"He's nice to everybody, he's generous himself. So every time I walk by, if I have change, I give him my change. Or I give him smokes," said Catherine Cardinal.

CBC is running a winter clothing drive this week to try to help the homeless keep warm this winter.

We're accepting donations of new socks, gloves and hats at our studios inside Edmonton City Centre mall until Friday.