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Calgary advocate calls for more resources for N.W.T. evacuees with complex needs

A Calgary advocate is calling for more resources and support for Northwest Territories evacuees with complex needs.

According to Be The Change YYC CEO and founder Chaz Smith, many Yellowknife evacuees have accessed the social service’s street outreach services in downtown Calgary.

Smith told Global News the organization saw one man, one woman and their dog on the first day. They were “highly complex individuals” who desperately needed supplies and food for their dog, he said.

“We were very surprised. We thought that we wouldn’t see folks trickle into the core in this state of need for maybe a week or a few days later,” Smith said.

“We know that individuals are highly complex. They have many needs. They’re escaping a very tragic situation. I’m not sure what exactly the per diem is, but in this case, it appeared to not be enough for the needs they had.”

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This comes after N.W.T. evacuees expressed financial concerns to their government.

Over 2,700 N.W.T. evacuees reached Calgary as of Wednesday, the city said, spread across the 40 hotels that have made rooms available.

Evacuees are receiving a per diem for food either at the hotel restaurant or for vouchers for nearby restaurants.

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But several evacuees told Global News financial support won’t be offered to evacuees who found accommodations on their own, nor will it reimburse those who used their own vehicles to evacuate.

Northwest Territories Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek told reporters on Tuesday evening the territorial government is trying to find ways to help the latter. However, there are no programs set up to help them at this time.

“Asking that a number of residents depart the territory en masse and figuring out how to support them fairly is a challenge,” she said at a news conference on Tuesday. “We’re going to have to figure this out. People aren’t going to be able to come back if they don’t have the funding to. The policies and guidelines are under consideration.”

Some hotels in Calgary are not equipped to help people with complex needs.

Shawn Wallace, acting inspector for the Calgary Police Service’s emergency management section, said police received 10 to 20 social disorder calls at hotels on Tuesday night.

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He said although this isn’t a significant number of calls, a lot of the evacuees need extra help from services, adding social workers have been deployed to help those who need emergency social services in Calgary.

“We sort of expect that people are going to need some extra help … We knew there was going to be some increase in need for resources,” he told Global News. “We want to make sure people get what they need … I think that the emergency social services are doing a great job of tracking and triaging what people need.”

Ian Bushell, director of emergency management and community safety for the City of Calgary, said city staff are doing their best to connect vulnerable N.W.T. evacuees with local agencies and support services.

A team of support workers has been going from hotel to hotel to meet with evacuees who may need assistance if they are being disruptive, he said. The support workers try to intervene before the evacuees are asked to leave the hotel.

“If somebody is asked to leave a hotel, ultimately, we then connect them with a local social assistance agency to try to get them a different housing mechanism or somewhere else to stay,” Bushell told Global News.

“We recognize that people are here. We’ve received them. We have placed them in a place to stay in a hotel. At some point in the future, they get the signal that they can return home to Yellowknife.

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“Some people will perhaps make a decision that they would stay longer here in Calgary and we’ll we’ll deal with individual cases as they come up.”

— With files from Adam MacVicar, Global News.

&© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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