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Alberta government announces $48M to support homeless during pandemic

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EDMONTON — The Alberta government has announced $48 million for shelters and community organizations that have been helping homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is still working out how the money will be divvied up.

"This critical financial support will help ensure the important work of our partners can continue," Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney said Wednesday.

The money is on top of $25 million announced in March.

The new funds mean that throughout the winter, isolation and care centres can continue to shelter people who are sick with, or have been exposed to, COVID-19 and have nowhere else to go.

Sawhney said overflow shelter spaces will be needed to ensure there is adequate physical distancing, especially once the weather gets colder.

"We are confident that with this funding, shelters will be able to continue providing the compassionate care that all Albertans deserve."

The minister could not say which organizations would receive the money and how many spaces the funding could support.

"We don't have highly specific details as of yet, but those details will be forthcoming."

But Sawhney said overflow shelter sites at convention centres in Calgary and Edmonton won't be reactivated as demand increases in the winter.

The province wound down the temporary shelters at the Calgary Telus Convention Centre and Edmonton Expo Centre this summer.

"We are working with both cities to explore different infrastructure and different spaces to make sure it complies with all of the social distancing requirements and also to make sure that it's a safe place for individuals to shelter in," Sawhney said.

"Some of those details will be announced as soon as we finalized those spaces."

The Mustard Seed, which serves homeless people in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer and Medicine Hat, is grateful for the provincial support, said CEO Stephen Wile.

But he said there remains significant need.

"The population we serve has a more significant medical urgency in the sense that many of them have numbers of physical problems," said Wile.

"And so to protect them and to protect everyone has been a challenge."

He added that keeping up staffing levels has also been difficult.

"If someone comes to work with a cold or a sniffle, then they automatically have to go home and then the rest of the team either has to pick up the slack or we have to call in other individuals to meet those needs," Wile said.

"If this pandemic was two weeks long, it wouldn't be a problem. But when it's many months long, we see many of our staff in and out of the building and waiting for tests and swabs in order to determine whether or not they can come back to work."

Alberta Health says there have been 11 COVID-19 cases at Calgary Alpha House, 25 at the Calgary Drop-in Centre, two at the Salvation Army Centre of Hope and nine at women's shelters. All have recovered.

Tim Richter, president of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, said it's good that Alberta shelters have managed to avoid widespread outbreaks like those in Toronto and other cities.

"But we are far from out of the woods yet," he said.

Richter said people across Canada have been sleeping outside because they don't believe shelters are safe.

"Rough sleeping is dangerous now," he said, noting increased violence, fire hazards and overdoses.

"That will be compounded as winter sets in."

Richter said he's happy to see Alberta is committed to sustaining its support but would prefer the government focus on long-term housing.

"The best protection against COVID-19 is a home. Housing is health care."

Sawhney said Seniors and Housing Minister Josephine Pon is working with her federal counterpart on addressing the "very dire need" for permanent supportive housing in Alberta.

"That work is underway and please stay tuned to hear more about that."

— By Lauren Krugel in Calgary

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on August 5, 2020.

The Canadian Press





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