300 people will be searching for places to sleep following closure of downtown Tipinawâw shelter

·3 min read
Some 5,000 unique individuals used services at the Edmonton Convention Centre's Tipinawâwshelter since last October. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)
Some 5,000 unique individuals used services at the Edmonton Convention Centre's Tipinawâwshelter since last October. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)

The emergency pandemic shelter at the Edmonton Convention Centre closed Friday and with that comes uncertainty about how hundreds of people will find a secure place to sleep.

The shelter, Tipinawâw, accommodated about 300 people a night and 600 during the day. Since it opened in October, about 5,000 separate individuals used the space.

The shelter was a collaborative effort by a number of agencies: Boyle Street Community Services, Bissell Centre, the Mustard Seed, Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, Homeward Trust and the City of Edmonton. It provided essential services such as meals, laundry, showers, mental health counselling and housing guidance.

A new shelter, which will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, will open in early May in the Spectrum building on the former Northlands racetrack site. It will provide 150 beds.

Hope Mission will run this shelter, replacing about 120 spaces at the Commonwealth Stadium the agency has run since October.

'We're worried'

In a news release Friday, the city said the provincial government has indicated there's sufficient space to accommodate everyone who needs emergency shelter in Edmonton.

"There is available space for overnight shelter currently in the system," the release said.

But where those spaces are found is still unclear.

The Mustard Seed runs four sites on Edmonton's south side, accommodating about 120 people overnight.

Dean Kurpjuweit, executive director of the Mustard Seed, said the agency opened some new spaces — all in churches — after the warehouse space off 99th Street in the Cessco building closed at the end of March.

Kurpjuweit said the south-side lodgings are at or near capacity almost every night. With only room for a handful of new clients, Kurpjuweit says it's unclear where the 300 people who stayed at Tipinawâw will find shelter.

"We're worried about where these people will go," Kurpjuweit told CBC News Friday. "We don't feel that there's adequate spaces at this point for people that need overnight shelter."

Tipinawâw at the Convention Centre opened in October to help comply with physical distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. It replaced the emergency pandemic shelter at the Expo Centre.

It cost nearly $14 million to run Tipinawâw, with the federal and provincial governments providing $8 million in COVID-19 specific funding. The city contributed $2.5 million to the downtown operation and the rest came from Homeward Trust and other programs.

Tipinawâw had been full consistently for both day services and overnight shelter, the city said.

Day services

The Bissell Centre, at 96th Street and 105th Avenue, and Boyle Street Community Services, at 101st Street and 105th Avenue, will offer daytime services. Boyle Street plans to add additional space outside that will help with physical distancing requirements.

The city is also funding an extra 90 spaces at the two centres.

The closure of Tipinawâw comes days after city councillors rejected a proposal for the city to contract Bissell Centre to run a new drop-in centre at 105th Street and 105th Avenue.

The committee directed the city to come up with alternative ideas for daytime services and report back on Monday.

The city has also introduced a new plan to manage camps that crop up, which it is anticipating will happen again this year. Last year, Camp Pekiwewin and another one at the Light Horse Park in Old Strathcona became temporary homes to hundreds of people.