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Walls closing in on Calgary's unhoused population
City restricts overnight access to LRT stations to prevent unhoused people from sleeping there
Starting Monday, the City of Calgary has closed three C-Train stations overnight to prevent unhoused people from sleeping in them, forcing them into shelters where they don’t want to be or can’t be for various reasons.
According to the city, 170 people per night seek shelter in C-Train stations across the city, but these places “are not designed to be used as shelter as they are not equipped with even the most basic of amenities such as washrooms, nor are they heated throughout the night.”
As a result, the doors to Southland, Heritage and Anderson stations will be locked starting at 10 p.m. Sunday.
Staff from several agencies supporting Calgary’s unhoused population, such as Alpha House’s DOAP Team and Street Sisters, will patrol these stations to bring those looking to stay the night to an official shelter and connect them with various social services, which will be funded as part of $750,000 council approved for the Calgary Homeless Foundation, the city says.
No matter how it’s presented, however, removing unhoused people who are suffering from various traumas from transit stations is an act that privileges and prioritizes the comfort of some over the survival of others.
Not everyone is welcome at the downtown Drop-In Centre, as evidenced by the dozens of tents pitched outside the shelter. While the organization claims to support harm-reduction, its policies explicitly prohibit the use of “illicit drugs” in the shelter, leaving people who use drugs to seek shelter from freezing temperatures elsewhere.
Dogs aren’t allowed either, a situation that’s contributed to Leslie Schamehorn living in a tent for a few years.
While the city speaks of doing what’s in the interest of unhoused people themselves, Schamehorn believes they’re just being pushed out of sight.
“They don’t want people in [the stations] because of the public outcry and complaints. ‘Here, we’ll close a couple C-Train stations and that will shut people up,’” Schamehorn told me. “It’s not addressing nothing, because you kick people out and where do they end up? Out here in tents.”
On Twitter, progressive stalwart Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra called the sentiment that someone is safer staying in a transit station than at a shelter “completely off-base,” while fellow progressive Coun. Kourtney Penner, said the situation at transit stations is “untenable.”
Untenable for whom exactly?
A Facebook statement from Bear Clan Patrol, a street-level organization that works with the unhoused population, said they were not consulted on this decision to displace unhoused people from transit stations — and they don’t support it.
“Not all street-level service providers are represented here,” said the Bear Clan Patrol statement. “These types of generalized statements made by the City of Calgary don’t accurately reflect the actual situation going on out there in the streets and in the C-[T]train stations. There’s gotta be another way to be barrier-free to support people experiencing being unhoused to support them at any stage.”
Pushing the people who use drugs “out of the stations and into the communities” is not a long-term solution, they added.
A CBC News story on this policy dismissed criticism of the city’s actions as social media chatter, and not one of the voices featured objected to the elimination of an alternative source of shelter for those who feel unsafe sleeping at official shelters.
"I don't see that as an inhumane response at all, to be frank. I see it as a very humane response," said Patricia Jones, president and CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation.
"How do we get you to the place you need so you can get the mental health recovery, addiction support services and housing to thrive in your life?"
Journalist Taylor Braat of CityNews did, however, make an effort to speak to people critical of the city’s policy, including Sue Gwynn, a steering committee member of Poverty Talks!, a local poverty reduction group.
“They have nowhere else to go,” Gwynn said of the people who seek shelter in C-Train stations. “This act from the city will cause death.”
Similarly, Euan Thomson, a local advocate for people who use drugs, told City that the push to remove unhoused people from public view stems from the stigmatization of drug use.
“The drugs are not the problem,” he said. “It’s prohibitionist criminalization policies that put these people up against the wall day-by-day.”
Meanwhile, just blocks away from the Drop-In Centre, Calgary City Hall is slated to discuss ways to salvage its deal to provide a multimillion dollar subsidy to the Calgary Flames for a new arena, potentially with a new partner after the Flames backed out due to a minor increase in costs on their end for solar panel fitting and sidewalk construction.
What does this say about our priorities as a city?
In other news …
Starting at the end of the month, people who want to access a supervised consumption site in Alberta will have to provide their health-card number, a change advocacy groups tried to block through a court injunction.
Court of Queen’s Bench, Justice Paul Belzil, acknowledged the policy is likely to cause “irreparable harm,” but in a puzzling decision said this is outweighed by the government’s right to create policy.
Avnish Nanda, who brought forward the injunction request on behalf of Moms Stop the Harm and the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society, criticized the notion that preventing death “matters less than allowing Alberta to develop policies without restraint.”What's interesting — and I think novel — is the court finding that though substance users will die and experience other forms of irreparable harm due to the new PHN requirement, protecting their lives matters less than allowing Alberta to develop policies without restraintQuite literally, some people will die, which the Court recognizes as not being good, but the public interest in the case rests with allowing the Alberta govt to freely regulate drug policy — that matters more than preventing the deaths, other harms to substance users
The “critical worker exemption,” which allows employers to determine without oversight whether a worker must come into work while sick with COVID, was implemented Jan. 3, alongside a reduction of the mandatory isolation period for people who have had a close contact with a confirmed COVID case.
"This order is unique in its stupidity, and unique in terms of its just sheer disregard for workers' rights," Ubaka Ogbogu, an associate professor in the faculty of law, and the Katz Research Fellow in Health Law and Science Policy, at the University of Alberta, told CBC News.
A spokesperson for Alberta Health said the order is meant as a last resort and should only be used for employees who have specialized training that can’t be immediately replaced.
Edited by Ximena González
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