Edson's new shelter pods provide a place for homeless people

The Town of Edson is testing a new emergency shelter that officials hope will translate into a longer-term solution to help people in rural Alberta get a good night’s sleep.

Volunteers open pods through a phone app to let clients in for the night

Five small rooms at the back of a recycling cetnre in Edson are now being used as overnight shelter space. (Kevin Zahara)

The Town of Edson is testing a new emergency shelter that officials hope will translate into a long-term solution to help people without a home in rural Alberta get a good night's sleep. 

Five small rooms, known as pods, have been carved out of the back of a recycling building in the town 200 kilometres west of Edmonton to accommodate those who need a place to stay overnight. 

The pods opened a little more than a month ago and since then have been used about 100 times. 

The small rooms each have a mat, bottles of water and room for a bag.

Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara said it's a secure way to give people a place to stay. 

"It seems to be working out great," he said. 

Zahara said previously, the building was being used as a temporary shelter. 

"What ended up happening is homeless individuals would end up crawling into the building through the openings and staying the night," he said.

Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara said the new shelter options are working out great. (Scott Neufeld/CBC News)

People looking to use the pods can press an intercom button on the side of the building, which connects to a phone monitored by a volunteer. 

The volunteer takes the person's name and opens the door through a phone app.

The client can then go into the pod and retrieve a sticky note, which contains a password to the keypad on the outside allowing them to open the pod throughout the night. 

Clients can access the pods between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

Erica Snook-Pennings, a program manager with the Edson Friendship Centre Housing Plus Program, is one of four volunteers who monitor the shelter pod phone. 

She said in the past month, about 20 people have been accessing the pods. 

"That, for me, is huge," she said. "I know people can get in and shut a door, they can sleep and their stuff's not being stolen. And they can actually sleep."

Snook-Pennings has been working on the project since September.

Filling a need

There's no other designated official shelter in Edson.

Many of the homeless couch-surf or find other places to sleep, like a shed in somebody's backyard or between the doors of apartment buildings or other facilities, Zahara said. 

Some stay at an informal shelter, which was run by a pastor who died in the past year, Snook-Pennings said. Its future is now unknown. 

A local effort

Edson town council committed $64,000 to the pod shelter project. 

A number of organizations donated money and local companies did the electrical, heating and flooring work, Zahara said.

"We see this as a tangible solution as a pilot project to see if it can actually work in Alberta," he said.

"We hope that other rural communities can learn from us if it is successful and maybe give them the opportunity as well to have these types of pods in their communities."