The town of Edson is testing a new emergency shelter that officials hope will translate into a long-term solution to help people without a home in rural Alberta get a good night's sleep.
Five small rooms, known as pods, have been carved out of the back of a recycling building in the town 200 kilometres west of Edmonton to accommodate those that need a place to stay overnight.
The pods opened a little more than a month ago and since then, the pods have been used about 100 times.
The small rooms all have a mat, bottles of water and room for a bag.
Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara said it's a secure way to give people a place to stay.
"It seems to be working out great," he said.
Zahara said previously, the building was being used as a temporary shelter.
"What ended up happening is homeless individuals would end up crawling into the building through the openings and staying the night," Zahara said.
People looking to use the pods can press an intercom button on the side of the building, which connects to a phone monitored by a volunteer.
The volunteer takes the person's name and opens the door through a phone app.
The client can then go into the pod and retrieve a sticky note, which contains a password to the electrical keypad on the outside allowing them to open the pod throughout the night.
Clients can access the pods between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Erica Snook-Pennings, a program manager with the Edson Friendship Centre Housing Plus Program, is one of four volunteers who monitors the shelter pod phone.
She said in the past month, about 20 individuals have been accessing the pods.
"That, for me, is huge," she said. "I know people can get in and shut a door, they can sleep and their stuff's not being stolen. And they can actually sleep."
Snook-Pennings has been working on the project since September and four community members take turns monitoring the phone.
Filling a need
There's no other designated official shelter in Edson.
Many of the unhoused couch surf or find other places to sleep like a shed in somebody's backyard in between the doors of apartment buildings or other facilities, Zahara said.
A number of people stay at an informal shelter, which was run by a pastor who died this past year, Snook-Pennings said, and now its future is unknown.
A local effort
Edson town council committed $64,000 to the pod shelter project.
A number of organizations donated money and local companies did the electrical, heating and flooring work, Zahara said.
"We see this as a tangible solution as a pilot project to see if it can actually work in Alberta," Zahara said.
"We hope that other rural communities can learn from us if it is successful and maybe give them the opportunity as well to have these types of pods in their communities."