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Winter chill puts the heat on Calgary homeless shelters

Calgary Herald logo Calgary Herald 2017-11-10 Bill Kaufmann
Challenged by mass migration to the city and a lack of affordable housing, Calgary is considered the epicentre of homelessness in Alberta and with shelters packed, rents rising and cold temperatures on the horizon, advocates are calling the situation a crisis. © Ted Rhodes Challenged by mass migration to the city and a lack of affordable housing, Calgary is considered the epicentre of homelessness in Alberta and with shelters packed, rents rising and cold temperatures on the horizon, advocates are calling the situation a crisis.

Staff at Canada’s largest homeless shelter are assembling kits to ward off frostbite, as the return of colder weather brings a rise in shelter use in the city.

While those at the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre collect wool socks, toques, gloves, hand warmers, hand cream and lip balm, its operators are also beginning to see the usual seasonal influx of clients.

“It slowly ramps up as the temperature starts dropping,” said shelter spokesman Tyler Hallett.

For now, just under 1,100 people are bedding down each night at the East Village facility, a number that will creep up in December, he said.

Some of those are homeless Calgarians who sleep rough on the streets during warmer weather, said Hallett.

“We live in a very difficult climate for homeless people, and collecting winter jackets and coats is a job in itself,” said Hallett.

Those who assist the destitute in Calgary say there are about 900 chronically homeless people in the city.

The Resolve Campaign involving home builders and social agencies is seeking to raise $120 million to construct affordable housing for 3,000 homeless or vulnerable Calgarians.

Hallett said with more of that housing becoming available, the number of people living on the street goes down, but he added that clientele numbers at the drop-in centre continue to ebb and flow.

At Inn From the Cold, the return of wintry weather hasn’t helped an already challenging time, said executive director Abe Brown.

“We’ve had a tough situation and this has made it all the more difficult,” said Brown.

“We’ve been at or above capacity pretty much since April.”

The agency’s regular shelter is at capacity, with 31 families lodged there, he said.

Since April, its overflow shelter with room for 20 more families has been opened 25 times, said Brown.

“We’re grateful the economy’s rebounding, (but) the most vulnerable, who we see, are the last to reap the benefits,” he said.

Of the shelter’s clients, 60 per cent are Indigenous and 25 per cent are newcomers to Canada, said Brown.

The agency is putting out the call for warm clothing, particularly for children, along with diapers and other baby supplies, along with cash donations.

“We’ve seen a bit of a dip financially on donations,” said Brown.

With the cold weather, the drop-in centre has also shifted its attention toward Christmas, with its Fill-a-Sock campaign that will deliver a gift stocking for every resident, said Hallett.

“Normally we’ve filled them with hygiene items but we’re also looking for handmade cards from local schools,” he said.

BKaufmann@postmedia.com

on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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