Calgary will open hotel and motel rooms to people living in homelessness to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading in city shelters.
Premier Jason Kenney announced Friday the Alberta government will work with cities to deliver more help for vulnerable citizens. In Calgary, the Mustard Seed and the Drop-In Centre have found “additional sites to meet the shortfall due to social distancing,” Kenney said.
The province will be providing extra cash and staff to set up overflow homeless shelters and spots for people who need to self-isolate. Alberta Health Services will give medical and public health support to the backup locations.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi hinted on Thursday Calgary’s hospitality industry would be involved in the effort to protect people in shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s practically impossible for people living on the streets or in shelters to follow the current public health advice to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19, he said, since they might not have regular access to a sink to wash their hands or a private space where they can self-isolate if they’re ill.
Calgary has been under a state of local emergency since Sunday. Shelters are exempt from the 50-person capacity limit that now applies to all gatherings in Alberta, and shelter staff have started taking extra precautions amid the pandemic.
But people staying in shelters are still at risk from being in such close quarters with others. The Drop-In Centre said Thursday it has had an average of nearly 800 people sleeping at the emergency shelter for each of the past 10 days.
In a Friday Twitter post, Nenshi said the move to use hotels and motels is “the right thing to do from both a physical health and mental health perspective.”
He also thanked the Calgary Hotel Association for their “enthusiastic support.”
In Edmonton, the Expo convention centre will be used as an overflow location for people experiencing homelessness, and front-line staff will be dispatched.
The province has already promised $60 million for charitable and non-profit groups to support seniors and other vulnerable populations hit hard by COVID-19.
Alpha House executive director Kathy Christiansen said Friday the shelter has paused admissions to its detox program. The agency is also looking at using those spaces differently during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Staff already have a screening protocol in place for anyone coming into the shelter, so anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms can be identified and tested, if necessary.
But shelter staff are also starting to run into other challenges as they keep trying to provide services.
“We’ve been panicked, like everyone, about personal protective equipment — masks and gloves,” she said. “We wouldn’t be able to operate without that, so we’ve been driving across the city, picking up a box here and there where we can. But we hear that’s coming too.”
Also Friday, the provincial government, with the support of the NDP, introduced and passed in one sitting changes to better co-ordinate provincial and municipal roles and rules in delivering aid.
Opposition Leader Rachel Notley renewed her call for Kenney to pass legislation to stop landlords from evicting tenants who don’t pay rent come April 1.
Kenney said he would consider it but noted some landlords have promised they won’t evict. He also suggested there could be unintended consequences of such a broad law, because people still may need to be evicted for other reasons, such as criminal activity.
NDP critic Joe Ceci urged the province to backstop funding for municipalities to allow towns and cities to defer property taxes, something that would cost billions of dollars.
Finance Minister Travis Toews said the government is working with municipal officials on financial relief programs but he didn’t list specific initiatives.
Original Story By Madeline Smith @ Calgary Herald
Saturday,March 21, 2020
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