Friday, April 13, 2007

Stretched to the Max

Early Sunday morning, April 1st, the temporary shelter known as, The Brick, was closed. The weather was nasty. Snow fell throughout the day, the temperature never ventured above -8C and, with a push from the wind chill factor, plummeted to -16 that night. The City said their hands were tied; Provincial Legislation prohibited them from implementing Disaster Services unless the temperature was –15 or below, and the windchill factor was not part of the equation. (It has since been determined that this is not a Provincial cap but a municipal one.)

The Drop-In was at over-capacity but turning someone away meant leaving them exposed to the brutal elements outside. We kept our doors open. By Monday morning, April 2nd, in response to the public outcry, City emergency services scrambled to find a place for the homeless who didn’t make it to the Drop-In’s doors and had been left out in the cold. Frantic calls throughout the day finally resulted in EMS announcing they would set-up emergency cots at their building in Whitehorn.

At the Drop-In we heard about the Whitehorn shelter on the 6 o’clock news and promptly contacted EMS and the other agencies involved to arrange for transport of clients. By 8 pm, 371 people stood and waited in our first floor lobby for the bus to arrive, to no avail. It never appeared.
Many calls later, the sad but undeniable truth was announced to the people standing in the lobby. Any individual wanting to go to the Whitehorn shelter would have to walk the fifteen blocks from the Drop-In to the Seed. At –19, this was a hardship most could not survive.

The photos depict the scene in our lobby at 8pm. Pictures, however, cannot show the desperation our clients and staff felt that night. The lobby is approximately 2500 sq. ft. – the size of an average home in Calgary that houses 4 people. The lobby has no mats, no cots, no washroom facility except in the Intox area, which was already over capacity. We had no choice but to let as many people as possible stay inside and camp out on the concrete floor of the lobby.

There was nothing dignified about the arrangements that night. Other than blankets, the individuals who could not get to the buses, or could not find somewhere else to sleep lay on the cold concrete and did what homeless people have to do everyday, make do with what they’ve got and be thankful they were not left out in the cold.

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