Calgary homeless shelters struggling amid economic slump

Calgary's homeless shelters say they need help as donations have dropped this summer as the slowing economy leaves fewer resources for the city's most vulnerable.

Trudi Marx, who works at the Mustard Seed shelter sorting donations, says among bins of toothpaste and other personal items one is empty — men's underwear.

"Yeah, it's entirely empty so we have no underwear right now," she said.

That's made an uncomfortable situation worse for the men who need them.

"When they do work up the nerve to ask you, it's very disappointing when you don't have it."

Jordan Hamilton of the Drop-In Centre says they also need help.

"We're seeing a decrease in towels," he said.

Summers are always a slow season for giving, but this year's economy has made it worse.

"As people are struggling, I don't think they're considering just what they have to give," he said.

And the centre is now grappling with a lower budget as higher-end donors have had to pull back.

"We just had a conversation last week in fact with a CEO of a major oil company who shared with us that unfortunately they won't be able to support our meal sponsorship program to the same degree they did last year," Hamilton said.

Both shelters are packed and need any help they can get — money, and key items, like new underwear.

Job seekers squeezed

The slump in the oil industry is putting added pressure on job seekers at the homeless shelters.

"I got laid off in the oil patch," said Jim Longphee, who was making good money as a truck driver in northern Alberta driving diesel fuel to rig sites. Now he's sleeping at the Mustard Seed's emergency shelter.

He says it has been tough finding a new job.

"I was offered a job on a gravel truck, but bouncing up and down, I don't think my body could take it. I'm 60 and not 40," he said.

The layoffs have made it hard for others at the shelter to find good work too, says the Mustard Seed's Brandon Waardenburg.

He says some clients are turning to day labour because the more secure jobs are being scooped up.

"We have extremely skilled oil workers coming in and taking some lower-skilled, lower-paid positions that sometimes Calgary's homeless have taken," he said.

Longphee says he's grateful he doesn't have a mortgage or kids to take care of, but he's not sure about his future job prospects.

"I mean, it doesn't look very optimistic," he said. "I think people are going to have to prepare for the long haul."