A member of a community-based organization that provides food and support to vulnerable Edmontonians is raising concerns after posting a video to social media showing homeless people being kicked out of an LRT station amid bitterly cold temperatures this weekend.
“When people are hungry and they need water and a hot meal…we oblige, because we’re humans and that’s why we’re out there, to help other human beings — especially in this cold snap,” Judith Gale, who works with The Bear Clan Patrol Edmonton Beaver Hills House, told Global News on Monday.
“It just kills me that our brothers and sisters were put out on the street.”
On Sunday night, Gale said she and other Bear Clan members helped feed about 25 people who were taking shelter from the cold inside the LRT network’s Central Station.
She told Global News that after negative encounter with a police officer on one side of the station, she went to the other side. When police approached her and several homeless people there about leaving the premises, she began recording video.
In the video, a police officer tells some of the homeless people that they can’t take their face coverings off inside even if they’re eating and adds that they are loitering and need to find somewhere else to eat.
Gale is heard telling the officers that the homeless people they were feeding will face “extreme weather” outside and a police officer is heard telling her “there’s lots of shelters though.”
Gale said for their own reasons, some people do not feel comfortable going to shelters and believed the situation could have been handled differently.
“(The officer) didn’t arrange for any transportation to that shelter,” she said. “He had no humanity.
“For EPS (Edmonton Police Service) to do that, what are they saying?”
Gale also questioned whether the police officer’s concern about COVID-19 masks not being worn while people were eating was appropriate.
“We put masks over the necessity of life?” she asked. “How about if that person had been starving and needed nourishment immediately?
“How can they go outside in -33 and eat peacefully? You can’t do that.”
In an email to Global News, a spokesperson for the EPS said police are aware of the video and are making efforts to reach out to the Bear Clan Patrol to discuss what happened.
“Our officers strive to balance the role of enforcing public safety, bylaws (loitering) and COVID-19 protocols,” police said.
“In this particular case, we should have better communicated our role in helping connect citizens to the City of Edmonton’s services and partner agencies whose goals are to keep vulnerable citizens safe and warm.”
Earlier this month, the City of Edmonton activated its extreme weather response plan as a brutal cold snap was about to sweep into Alberta’s capital.
The response plan sees two Edmonton Transit Services bus loops operating overnight, travelling between emergency shelters, transit centres and other key locations. At the same time, some local organizations found ways to increase shelter capacity to try to accommodate more people during the deep freeze.
Ward 4 councillor Aaron Paquette told Global News his office has recently received a number of phone calls from citizens expressing concern about homeless Edmontonians.
“They’re really concerned about folks who are kind of outside during this extreme cold weather, and they want to know what we’re doing to help,” he said.
Paquette said he believes the situation at the LRT station could have been handled better.
“If there’s a concern about loitering, rather than just putting people out into the cold, perhaps the better solution is to provide them with the solutions that are already available,” he said.
Paquette said he plans to speak to city councillors who sit on the police commission about what police officers’ protocols are in such situations and if they are aware they can call 211 to get support helping homeless people in the cold.
“No one should be freezing to death on our streets… They shouldn’t be losing limbs,” he said, adding that in the past, he has advocated for using LRT stations to help vulnerable people warm up from the cold.
“Our shelters are not yet at capacity.. some are… (but) shelters are not a solution to homelessness.. they are a stop-gap to at least help people survive.”
Paquette said some of the reasons that some homeless people are reluctant to go to shelters is because they fear they will get sick there, particularly during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He also said that some homeless shelters make people that use them “engage or listen” to things that trigger past traumas.
Gale said she knows of Edmontonians who have essentially frozen to death, noting in some cases, they were found near buildings where some of the wealthiest people in the city work.
“These people that we serve, unfortunately, they don’t have lovely jackets and hats and scarves,” she said. “They can’t sustain themselves all night walking around in that kind of weather so they have to come in.
“We don’t need to have people freezing to death on the streets of Edmonton.”
Paquette said the recent cold snap “definitely shows that there’s work to be done.”
“These sorts of situations shouldn’t even be happening,” he said. “When it comes to homelessness… we can solve it. We already know how.
“The real problem is we don’t have the funding.”
Paquette noted that he believes the Alberta government needs to do more to help pay for long-term supportive housing to address the problem.
“The City of Edmonton, we don’t have the money to do it ourselves — otherwise we would,” he said. “It costs less to fix these issues than we are spending by not fixing them.
Gale said she wants more people to recognize homeless people as part of their community.
“They’re our brothers and sisters, they’re our responsibility,” she said. “And that’s why we go out every night (to help).”
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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