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More funding help needed to bolster Calgary’s winter homeless response: Coun. Penner

While we all hope we can stave off bone-chilling winter temperatures for a few more weeks, preparations are being made to care for Calgary’s unhoused in the cold.

The city’s Community Development Committee heard about last year’s coordinated winter response in Tuesday’s meeting.  It was part of a presentation that led to approval of a request for joint funding from the province for extreme weather response for the homeless.

Last year, a coordinated emergency effort, bolstered by nearly $1 million in funding, helped with outreach for Calgarians living rough in the bitter winter weather. Homeless Calgarians were congregating in tent cities outside the Calgary Drop-In Centre and at LRT stations.

In the presentation, councillors heard that more than 85,000 items – from gloves to snacks to toothpaste – were distributed to Calgary homeless last winter. There were more than 7,000 visits between five warming centres and more than 100 shuttle transports to shelters during a January cold snap.

Plus, the Calgary Homeless Foundation held ongoing discussions with outreach groups on their street level plans.

“This allowed them to focus on different parts of the city and coordinate which groups are going out on different days and times,” said Doug Borch with the City.

“The distribution of essential items allowed the groups to focus more on outreach than collecting donations.”

Still, when asked by Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong the lessons learned from last year, the Calgary Homeless Foundation’s Matt Nomura said that hearing more about the work done by different outreach groups and the level of need, “was a bit eye-opening for us.”

“I think the other thing that we learned is that individuals want choice, and they want that human connection,” he said.

Nomura also said the interactions they had at the warming stations highlighted the need to be expansive and responsive with that approach.

Top up of funds for the winter?

Wong also asked if there were any deficiencies that these groups are hoping to top up with funding.

They were told that there’s a need for basic winter supplies. Any top up funding for that would go a long way, city admin said.     

The Community Safety Investment Framework will be providing $2.3 million over four years to the Calgary Homeless Foundation. The city also said that they would be investing in the mobile response team.

After the meeting, committee chair, Coun. Kourtney Penner said the preps were underway to help this winter. It’s too early to tell just what will be needed – plus, it’s really weather dependent.

“There’s a lot of factors again that are going to go into the response that we just can’t predict, and that we need to be continuously responsive and adaptable and flexible,” she said.

“That’s always what we need to be when dealing with complex situations.”

Either way, Penner said the expected need is larger than what the city can fund alone.

“We do need the province to be a partner because it is also part of their purview and their legislative responsibility,” she said.

The recommendation was approved, but will still need the go-ahead at a full meeting of council.