Edmonton shelters saving vulnerable from frostbite, extreme cold

Two of Edmonton’s shelter providers say they’re running at full capacity and seeing those without a home struggle in this relentless extreme cold snap.

Read more: Western Canada stays under extreme cold warnings as some areas hit -50 C

Megan Schuring is the director of community development for the Mustard Seed.

“A lot of people have inappropriate outerwear on or have been exposed to the elements in some way, dealing with a lot of frostbite and a bit of panic about trying to get in somewhere warm,” she explained.

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The Bissell Centre is full every day.

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“Pre-pandemic, we could fit up to 120 people in our space and now we can only fit 50, so that’s a challenge,” explained communications specialist Scarlet Bjornson.

“We’re at capacity pretty much from 7 a.m. when we open to 9 p.m. when we close. People still do end up in a lineup outside our facilities and it’s horrible.”

Read more: British Columbians asked to avoid travel, check on neighbours amid frigid weather

Bjornson said staff go out into the line try make sure everyone has warm clothing on. But for some, the cold still has devastating consequences.

“Staff actually found a participant outside of our building who we brought inside to warm up.

“EMS came out and absolutely did save his life.”

Bjornson added that a few other people have been taken to hospital with cold-related injuries as well.

“When you think about frostbite — like loss of limbs, fingers and toes, hands, feet — those are really serious concerns. And then, nobody wants to die.”

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Bitterly cold temperatures still being felt in Edmonton

The Mustard Seed is running three 24/7 shelters at Commonwealth, Knox Evangelical Church and Strathcona Baptist Church.

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In total, there are mats for 270 people to sleep in those spaces.

“Having six-feet distance between mats is more difficult because we’re at a limited capacity, which is why we’ve been asked to open up more shelters in the city,” Schuring explained.

“It’s just people are looking for a place to stay warm, just like all of us are.”

Read more: Number of homeless Edmontonians has doubled; city facing lack of shelter space this winter

Before the pandemic, Schuring said people would have to leave the shelters in the morning and return at night. But she says the around-the-clock option is much better, particularly in extreme cold like this.

“They can watch some TV, they can play some cards, we have a library. A lot of different things people can do.”

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When people do venture outside, Schuring said staff make sure they have appropriate winter wear. But to keep that going, the Mustard Seed needs donations.

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“Men’s boots, sizes 10, 11 and 12. Women’s boots sizes 9 and 10, jackets and long underwear or ski pants, hot pockets for inside mittens and of course gloves.”

Donations can be dropped off at the Mustard Seed Community Support Centre (10568 114 Street) Monday to Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The Bissell Centre is in need of financial donations and waterproof gloves.

Read more: Edmonton activates extreme weather response Tuesday

The City of Edmonton activated its extreme weather response on Dec. 14, which includes the operation of warming buses to transport people in need to and from shelters.

On its website, the city wrote: “This activation is expected to run until Dec. 31, based on the current forecast. We will continue to monitor the weather conditions and the needs for service during and we will adapt as necessary.”

If Edmontonians see someone in need of help, they’re asked to call 211 or 911 in an emergency.

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