Overwhelmed Alberta Works staff turn away people seeking help

Despite lining up long before an Alberta Works office opens its doors in Calgary, many people are getting sent home and told to try their luck the next day because staff can't meet the growing need for financial assistance.

That's what happened to Ashley Young, twice.

"I came here yesterday at one o'clock and they told me they had no appointments for today, to come back tomorrow morning and make sure you are here early, because the doors open at 8:15, people will line up. So I showed up at 7:45 and there's already 60 people in line, if not more."

Young says staff accepted the first 15 people in line and sent the rest away.

"And now I have nothing, not even food vouchers," said the mother of two.

According to the Alberta government, staff reported an increased caseload of 19.8 per cent between December 2014 and December 2015. But that number only includes Albertans who have had their application approved and processed. Not the number of office visits.

Income support is provided to Albertans who've exhausted their Employment Insurance benefits, who can't work for whatever reason, or who are trying to find work and are in need of some short-term financial support. Alberta Works also provides health benefits and rental subsidies.

Young moved to Calgary from Fairview last month with her children to work for a snow removal and landscaping company, but without any snow there's been no work.

Early lineups "insane"

Serrina Golski is also trying to apply for income support after injuring her back. She was told she had to apply in person and was also told she should come early.

So she did, but not as early as the dozens of other of people in line ahead of her.

"That's insane. This other lady, she was here since six, and she didn't get in." Neither did Golski.

Her dad, Tanner Leach, took the day off to drive her from Airdrie.

"Maybe they should hire more staff and have more people to assist with the folks," said Leach.

'Sign of the times'

"There's no question, it's a sign of the times that there is an increased demand, " said Mike Berezowski, a spokesperson for the department of Human Services.

Berezowkski says the department is trying to fill vacancies when they can, and allocate staff to higher traffic areas, but because the need is province-wide it's hard to stretch staff out.

"There's no question it's a challenge for us but we are going try to do as much as we can to make sure that Albertans have access to the services they need."

In some cases, Berezowski says Albertans can start their application online, or call an after hour emergency line for help with basic needs like food, clothing and shelter.