Calgary homeless shelters get boost to help prevent spread of COVID-19

Shelters in Calgary are receiving a financial boost from the province to help implement social distancing measures. 

Premier Jason Kenney says the province will be providing extra cash and staff to set up overflow homeless shelters and room for people who need to self-isolate.

"Alberta Health Services will provide medical support, public-health support ... to these backup homeless locations," Kenney told the house Friday in response to questions from the Opposition NDP.

Community and Social Services will also be involved.

In Calgary, the Mustard Seed and the Drop-In Centre have both been identified as sites set up to receive the support.

The Mustard Seed will receive more than $750,000 over the next six months and plans to use that funding to rent out addition facilities and hire more staff.

"A lot of people that we work with have compromised immune systems. They're very vulnerable," said Boris Lesar, director of clinical operations and programs at the Mustard Seed. "So, it's so important to be able to actually do daily screening to notice early so we prevent the spread in the community.

"Our clients are very mobile, and if we don't catch them early, we could look at a spread very quickly."

Lesar said the shelter would have had to spread their floor mats further apart for social distancing purposes, which would have meant the Mustard Seed's existing facilities across the city would lose a lot of beds.

"That meant we needed to find new facilities, hire more staff and deal with all the logistics in order to accommodate for the loss of space," he said.

The shelter is partnering with First Alliance Church to provide more space for the beds and is screening people coming in and out. So far, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the shelter.

During his remarks Friday, Kenney said the Mustard Seed and Calgary Drop-in Centre are working with community and social services to block book hotels for additional space.  In Edmonton, the Expo Centre will be used as an overflow location.

The government has already promised $60 million for charitable and non-profit groups to support seniors and other vulnerable populations hit hard by COVID-19.