A video was shared regarding an incident that occurred in a central LRT station on February 14. This interaction with the city’s vulnerable population has caused much media and social media attention.
Rob Smyth, Deputy City Manager, Citizen Services, delivered the following statement at the ith Community and Public Services Committee on February 17:
We share the frustration and disappointment that so many are feeling today. This pandemic has been very difficult for people experiencing homelessness and cold weather multiplies the challenges they face.
We applaud the efforts of the Bear Clan, other volunteer-based outreach initiatives, and the Edmontonians who support them in helping to meet people's needs in these trying times.
The situation that unfolded over the weekend at an LRT station is not reflective of our community’s values nor the tireless efforts of dozens of social agencies, Homeward Trust, City staff, and the Edmonton Police Service who came together in response to this extreme weather. Collectively these partners mobilized transportation, essential services, security, and warm shelter space for hundreds of Edmontonians every night over the past two weeks.
Winter emergency buses, staffed with outreach workers and peace officers, ran overnight loops across the north and south sides of the city. Shelters around the city, including the temporary accommodations at Commonwealth Stadium and Edmonton Convention Centre, expanded their capacity. Professionally trained staff provided around the clock support to those in need. And our most vulnerable were protected with safe, clean, and secure spaces with food service and proper COVID-19 protocols in place. At all times during this activation, there was room in the shelter system for all who sought access to it.
An LRT station is no longer used as part of this activation. In our efforts to improve the extreme weather response, we learned that these facilities are not configured to support this kind of service. LRT stations are cold, uncomfortable and not designed for sleep. They do not meet any definition of an acceptable place to use for overnight shelter. We have realized that the better solution is to instead use transit to ensure that transportation is not a barrier to accessing proper facilities with appropriate staffing, resources, protocols and supports in place.
However, some individuals still seek temporary respite from the cold at these transit centres. While peace officers provided support to outreach workers on emergency winter buses transporting people to shelters across the city, fewer staff were available to cover their other duties. The Edmonton Police Service stepped up and responded to our request for help patrolling transit stations and pedways where social disorder has been steadily increasing over recent weeks. The incident with members of the Bear Clan this weekend makes it clear an opportunity exists to clarify our own policies regarding what activities are permitted in City-facilities.
We will use the mistakes that were made this past weekend as an opportunity to once again improve our collective response. We will start by creating a joint Standard Operating Procedure with EPS that outlines our approach to ensuring the safety of all Edmontonians who access transit stations. The SOP will stress the importance of compassion and care in communicating rules and finding solutions, while being mindful of the necessary role played by the broader social system in meeting the needs of people experiencing homelessness. The development of this SOP is currently underway. Administration will also continue its work with Homeward Trust and the Government of Alberta to stress the importance of ensuring low barrier shelter options are available to meet people's needs when and where they need it, and the value of housing as a solution that addresses the root cause of many issues, including this one.
And finally, this unfortunate incident has shown just how important it is that we continue to improve how we work with our community partners, with the GoA, and with the Edmonton Police Service to improve the services we provide to all Edmontonians.