The City of Calgary said Sunday that it will be closing some CTrain stations to the public overnight to prevent them from being used as impromptu homeless shelters.
During the recent extended cold snap, about 170 people nightly took refuge in the LRT stations, the city said in a release.
"However, these stations 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," the release said.
"There are safer places to shelter inside available for people who are unhoused to seek accommodation and supports."
Beginning Monday, some CTrain stations — including Southland, Heritage and Anderson — will be shuttered to the public between 10 p.m. and start of service the following day.
The city says it will be working with multi-agency outreach staff to bring those who have been sheltering in CTrain stations transportation to shelters or other community resources, as the stations are not designed to be used as housing. They do not have washrooms and are not heated throughout the night.
Support from local organizations
The decision to close some LRT stations overnight has been criticized on social media.
However, Patricia Jones, president and CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, said she supports the city's decision.
"I don't see that as an inhumane response at all, to be frank. I see it as a very humane response," she said.
"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?"
Last month, city council approved up to $750,000 to support people experiencing homelessness this winter. The government gave those funds to the Homeless Foundation, which is distributing the money to various local agencies. Jones said the funds are helping to ensure winter clothing is available and spaces in warming centres have been increased.
Jones said closing the LRT stations overnight is a complicated issue, but ultimately she thinks it's a better long-term solution to connect homeless populations with shelters and services rather than allow them to stay overnight at train stations.
"We're not simply going to lock the door and say, 'Good luck.'"
Chaz Smith, founder of street outreach team Be the Change YYC, says this is not the first time the stations have been closed.
In April 2020, Calgary Transit shut some of the same stations at 6 p.m. due to what they called "social disorder." But this time Smith says, the city has taken a better approach.
"What is different is that there is going to be a coordinated approach with many different outreach teams so that we can hopefully direct people to the appropriate resources," he said.
But he says despite that option, many people can't or won't access shelters due to the pandemic, while others do not want to be separated from their partner or pet.
"Although some of those barriers still do exist, I recognize that the emergency shelters and the rest of the sector are actively talking about some of those barriers and how they can reduce them," Smith said.
"This is, of course, a complex situation. Experiencing homelessness is nothing that I would wish on anyone, the complexities that it brings … the struggles that individuals in these trauma responses face every day are just truly unprecedented, having to fight for food, warmth, shelter."
Safety a concern
The city said cold temperatures have been difficult and dangerous for Calgarians experiencing homelessness. They said Calgary Transit officers will visit CTrain stations.
"Calgarians' safety is our top priority," Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said in an emailed statement.
"Calgarians who are unhoused and in positions of vulnerability need safe spaces for shelter, and all Calgarians need to feel safe on our transit system."
During a press conference Sunday, Matthew Nomura, vice-president of the Homeless Serving System of Care, said the organization is working to address barriers to shelter access, including standards around pets and access to outreach and transportation.
"There is a general sense of safety required across the system for all our travelling citizenry, so there will be greater attempts to have peace officers present," said Samuel Hope, manager of safety and security at Calgary Transit.
He said there will also be targeted visits from peace officers.
LRT platforms to access trains and transit service will still be available and trains will continue to run on their regular schedules.