Volunteer Chaz Smith, right, distributes aid to a homeless man in Calgary on Wednesday, May 20, 2020, amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Smith says people on the streets are choosing the cold rather than going to shelters where there are outbreaks of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Volunteer Chaz Smith, right, distributes aid to a homeless man in Calgary on Wednesday, May 20, 2020, amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Smith says people on the streets are choosing the cold rather than going to shelters where there are outbreaks of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

‘Terrified’: Calgary homeless leaving shelters after fresh COVID-19 outbreaks

Alberta Health said that the two main shelters in downtown Calgary were dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks

Outbreaks at two shelters have left Calgary’s homeless terrified to come in out of the cold for fear of catching COVID-19, says a group that helps people living on the streets.

Be The Change YYC provides food, water, blankets, hygiene supplies, tents and tarps three nights a week in the city’s downtown.

Founder Chaz Smith said virus outbreaks at the Calgary Drop-In Centre and Alpha House have left the homeless facing a difficult choice.

“Do you freeze or do you potentially risk catching COVID?” Smith said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

He said the group helped 47 people Sunday night after some snow and cold winds hit the city. One person in particular stood out.

Smith said a man broke down into tears when faced with the possibility of going to a shelter.

“It’s never fun when you have a man in his 40s just break down and start crying and say, ‘I don’t want to go into the shelter’ because he’s so terrified,” he said.

“He really, really didn’t want to go.”

The individual was eventually persuaded to go to a shelter along with four others.

“They were just so cold they didn’t have any other choice.”

Alberta Health revealed Monday that the two main shelters in downtown Calgary, were dealing with fresh COVID-19 outbreaks. Alpha House has about 80 beds and the Drop-In Centre has 600 spaces.

“We are taking these outbreaks extremely seriously. Health screening of all staff and shelter clients is underway and on-site testing is being conducted,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health.

“The risk of spread to this population is a reflection of the large community spread that we are seeing and another reminder that we must protect each other.”

The head of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness said the Alberta government and the city of Calgary need to take action to make sure the outbreaks are handled properly.

Tim Richter said things are already dire for the homeless and the shelters are stuck between “a rock and a hard place”.

“It’s November. It’s snowing. The weather is awful and people are fleeing the shelters because they’re scared of catching COVID-19 — and with good reason,” Richter said.

“Sleeping outside at any time of the year in Calgary or anywhere in Canada is dangerous, including everything from the weather to fire to violence or an overdose,” he said.

“You’re dealing with people that are especially vulnerable to COVID given their health conditions and the way they’re forced to live. People are going to die if they haven’t already.”

There was no response to a request for comment from Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

But in an email to Smith, Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney said the government has provided millions of dollars to shelters and community organizations helping the vulnerable.

“We will continue working with shelter operators, municipalities, local stakeholders and Alberta Health Services to … ensure the health and safety of vulnerable Albertans,” said Sawhney.

“I am pleased to report that most shelters in Calgary have found alternate locations for expanded shelter operations.”

Smith and Richter have been pushing the Alberta and Calgary governments to provide spaces in vacant hotels for the homeless.

“It’s sad and it’s frustrating and it’s potentially deadly,” Richter said.

“In the absence of leadership, how are we going to come up with a plan in this city in a way that keeps everybody safe, because the shelters are all left to their own devices right now?”

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

CoronavirusHomelessness

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

school
Rimbey Christian School building projects nearing completion

New gym, soccer field and skating rink will be open to community use as well

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. (File photo)
Wolf Creek and Wetaskiwin school boards ‘reasurred’ by letter from LaGrange

Boards urge the Alberta government to honour commitmens to Indigenous peoples

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which causes COVID-19, emerge from the surface of cells isolated from a patient in the U.S. and cultured in a lab in a 2020 electron microscope image. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories
Alberta now has 17,743 active cases of COVID-19

Province now has 17,743 active cases

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed eight additional virus-deaths Monday afternoon including one in central zone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Central zone up to 1,249 active COVID-19 cases

Red Deer sits at 257 active COVID-19 cases

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council squashes mask bylaw

The bylaw did not make it past first reading, after a 4-3 vote defeated the motion

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

A teacher places the finishing touches on the welcome sign at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Hindsight 2020: How do you preserve a year many Canadians would rather forget?

Figuring out how to preserve the story of the pandemic poses a series of challenges

Team Manitoba celebrate after defeating Team Ontario to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask., Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. Curling Canada wants Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park to be a curling hub for the season’s top events. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary facility set to become curling hub during pandemic

Curling Canada has provisional approval for Calgary’s hub-city concept from Alberta Health

Most Read