Airdrie offers wide support for unhoused during cold snap

Airdrie Library garners international attention for helping vulnerable people during the cold. Silvia Naranjo reports.

By Silvia Naranjo

The Airdrie Public Library is getting lots of attention for housing vulnerable people during the extreme cold in Alberta, setting an example for other cities and countries.

Temperatures plummeted below 35 degrees in the past week, and Albertans desperately needed a warm spot to spend the night, but not everyone had access to one.

Airdrie, just north of Calgary, decided to help by creating alternative warming shelters like the public library — which extended its operating hours around the clock.

Sharyn Demers, the TRAC supervisor at the Airdrie Public Library says it was open from Wednesday to Monday amid the cold snap, 24 hours a day.

Airdrie doesn’t have a 24-hour shelter to keep unhoused people safe from the cold, so the city asked the public library to stay open and offer a safe space.

“It was just amazing that the whole community was rallying around and been there for anybody in need,” she said.

The library’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed as many other libraries, even from different countries, took interest in this initiative.

“As far as we know it’s only our library that’s done this, we’ve actually had libraries from across the world reach out to us and say what a wonderful thing that we had done and that was something that they never thought of doing before,” she explained.

“Even places in Australia and Singapore and Philippines, England, Scotland… they were just amazed that we actually did this and we weren’t expecting that kind of feedback.”

Watch: Houseless people in Calgary at risk in extreme cold weather

Demers says they had several people going in and out over the past days and two who have spent the night.

“One lady actually had her two cats with her. She lives in a motor home and she couldn’t keep it warm and the door kept freezing shut, so her two cats and her moved into this room actually for that period, and another gentleman needed dental surgery and so he was here through that time and offered him a warm space,” she said.

Demers says the city provided backpacks with clothes, blankets and water. The community pitched in too by dropping off food and gift cards, as well as referring options for assistance that can make a difference in the long term.

Airdrie Public Library says they will extend their operating hours to offer a warm spot again when it’s required.

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