Earlier this month, many of you likely donned layers upon layers of winter clothes, hurriedly shuffled to class, and generally tried to stay indoors as much as possible. Edmonton’s latest cold snap has been enough to drive even the most cold-blooded among us to crawl into a blanket fort and make a cup of hot chocolate.
It’s nice to be able to go back to a warm place after an interval of being out in the cold, and to know that the numb sensation in your legs will pass; but many of us take our housing for granted. For those in Edmonton experiencing homelessness, the frigid temperatures have far more dangerous consequences.
Homeward Trust Edmonton says that over 2000 people remain to be housed as of 2018, with over 400 people reportedly not having a safe place to sleep at night. To make matters worse, about 10 per cent of the By Name list are homeless youth, a majority of those being Indigenous youth. While it may feel like a distant problem through the lens of our own privilege, Homeward Trust’s report stated that about 11,000 Edmontonians will experience homelessness over the course of a year. For many this is a temporary state, but that hardly matters when the weather reaches -40 C.
There are operations to help combat this problem, including emergency shelter providers like Hope Mission and George Spady Society, but some of these shelters are consistently full. The city of Edmonton’s plan to end homelessness touches on this issue with the original Housing First plan developed in 2009; the plan was to give a home and support to those who needed it.
These plans to fund more homeless housing projects across the city with higher capacities seem like a concrete solution to this problem, especially in the winter months. However, it becomes more complicated when one considers that some homeless individuals may not be able to go to those shelters, whether due to the cold temperatures, a disability that prevents them from reaching those spaces, or even not knowing how to get there. Homelessness affects each individual differently, and there can be a myriad of factors that prevent them from housing security, including poverty, lack of structural support, discrimination, or personal crisis.
In order to fully help those experiencing homelessness, the city must make information on these shelters and their locations more accessible. Current information is available online, however, not all people experiencing homelessness have internet access. There also needs to be a reliable way for individuals to travel to these spaces. In addition to providing details about how to reach these venues, the city should consider operating a special branch of ETS. Traditional public transit may not be accessible to people experiencing homelessness, so having buses or cabs that operate similarly to action bus could save lives.
It’s easy for us to dismiss this harsh weather as an annoyance when we don’t have to worry about housing or transportation, but for some, the cold could be a matter of life and death. While we should strive to reduce homelessness year round, we must be especially mindful during these winter months, where hypothermia and frostbite can occur in minutes. All Edmontonians should be able to stay warm during the cold snap, no matter who they are.