Extremely cold temperatures raise concerns for Calgary’s most vulnerable

The cold, arctic air is settling across Calgary Wednesday, making it essential to bundle up for those trekking outside.

But, as the mercury drops, conditions become even more dangerous for many Calgarians.

Wednesday is only a small preview of what’s to come in the next few days as the city could see the coldest daytime highs seen in decades by Friday or Saturday.

A polar vortex is bringing a huge drop to the temperature — the wind-chill will make it feel like more than -30 C Wednesday afternoon, as fresh fallen snow covers the city.

As the cold air swallows the city, shelters around Calgary are raising some concern on what this first real cold spell could mean for vulnerable Calgarians.

“That will affect our population significantly,” Samantha Lowe with The Mustard Seed said. “Last year, there was a10-year high in the number of amputations and freezing cold injuries. I like to say freezing-cold injuries, because frostbite kind of sounds like a nip on the nose where this is somebody’s limbs, their digits, that are frozen.

“We’re concerned about seeing that again, certainly.”

Alberta Health Services (AHS) has said the 2021 and 2022 winter months were historic in the worst way, with the most cold-related injuries ever seen on record.

Winter 2022 saw more than 700 visits due to frost bite in 2022, and over 60 amputations as a result, according to AHS.

With how mild this winter has been, Lowe says there is a lot of work underway to make sure people don’t suffer when the conditions get brutal, such as days like today.

“This is a hard time for those in our community that don’t have the same access to resources that we do,” Lowe said. “While there has been an upward trajectory of individuals experiencing cold-related injuries, we’ve also seen a significant increase in the utilization in our services. I going to assume those two are quite related.”

As the amount of people relying on shelter-services continues to climb, the amount of resources also needed increases.

“We operate, always, every year, annually, on the premise that we are going to see individuals seeking services at a higher level during the cold winter months,” Lowe explained. “What’s always needed from our community is those donations of a thick winter coat, socks, toques — anything that can prevent and assist in preventing those freezing cold injuries.”

In response to the extremely cold weather, the City of Calgary, the Calgary Homeless Foundation and other community partners have launched additional resources to help the city’s most vulnerable.

The Emergency Shelter Shuttle will transport people sheltering along the CTrain line to available shelter space, the city said Wednesday.

It will run seven days a week from 10:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. until March 31, the city says.

It adds that staff from Alpha House, Transit Public Safety and Calgary Transit will work together to connect with people sheltering along the LRT line and encourage access to available shelter space.

Between Dec. 1 and Jan. 6, there were 824 transports from LRT stations to emergency shelters.

Outreach staff from Alpha House and city peace officers also proactively check common locations where people may be sleeping rough, according to the city.

During check-ins, the welfare of individuals encountered is assessed, and resources and necessities are offers handwarmers, food hampers and socks. They also address unsafe situations, and as necessary, make contact with emergency responders, according to the city.

Daytime warming spaces have also increased, the city says. There are 425 spaces available through nine organizations.

These spaces give people the chance to access healthcare, social support, and long-term solutions to homelessness like employment and housing.

The Salvation Army Mobile Warming Station also sets up at two LRT station locations each day and offers food, hot drinks and transportation to shelter from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The daily schedule is available at Salvation Army Mobile Warming Station Schedule – Calgary Homeless Foundation.

Calgary Public Libraries are also available during normal business hours for those looking to get out of the cold weather.

People who have pets can also access a new service — Parachute for Pets is offering a warming space where owners can leave their animals overnight, access pet food and supplies, social support, and more.

If Calgarians find their fellow citizens in distress during the cold weather, they can call the 211, the HELP team at 403-988-7388, or call 911.

The City of Calgary says it is working with provincial contacts and partners to monitor shelter capacity during colder temperatures.

The Government of Alberta claims there is capacity in the shelter system.

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