After several days of extreme cold and with temperatures predicted to plunge to nearly -50 by Friday evening, conversations by organizations, residents as well as The City, have focused on how the community is responding to those who are most vulnerable.

On Monday, January 8, the City announced that in response to dangerously cold temperatures, it would be offering public warming spaces for unsheltered residents. The spaces included both the Airdrie Public Library, as well as the city's recreation centre, Genesis Place. 

Though many residents applauded the news, others were also quick to point out that the spaces were not open 24 hours, and closed in the evening, when temperatures were at their lowest. 

Earlier on Thursday, the Airdrie Public Library confirmed that it would be open around the clock for those in need as a warming space. The discussions surrounding homelessness and vulnerable populations in the city were highlighted during a December city council meeting in which council approved funding for a homelessness study, while simultaneously agreeing to continue to meet with key stakeholders to formulate a framework for a more long-term response to homelessness, especially in the case of extreme weather events. One of those key stakeholders in meetings was Airdrie's Community Links.

Brenda Hume has been with the organization for nearly two decades and is the current Executive Director. Hume applauded the city in their earlier announcement, saying that even in comparison to a year ago, there is progress.

"We see a more solid collaborative response, so, that's been amazing," she said. "We're also thankful for the city, especially coming to us and learning what we are seeing."

Trudy Wilson, Manager of Support Services echoed Hume's sentiment that there is progress being made, though she conceded there is room for growth and an expansion of supports.

"I think it's enough for now, [but I do] think the right people are at the table having some pretty powerful conversations."

Hume said that after a meeting with various stakeholders earlier this week, groundwork is being laid to identify a path forward for the potential of a 24-hour emergency shelter in the city.

"'I'm very optimistic and excited that we are stepping into what definitely could be. We had the right people at the table that make some decisions. We identified the barriers that need to be addressed to move things forward."

Hume added that while there may have been a prior notion that Airdrie, unlike neighbouring cities such as Calgary or Red Deer, Airdrie does not have a homeless population, Community Links has seen a steady increase of individuals experiencing homelessness coming to the organization.

"We see an increase every year; different situations that are coming through our door."

Both Hume and Wilson said that it's not just a question of having a permanent 24-hour emergency shelter in Airdrie, it's also a question of who it will serve. Currently, there are no quantifiable numbers on homelessness in Airdrie, which is why the homelessness study that has been commissioned by the City, is vital.

"I hope that it'll help dispel some myths around what we might view homelessness to be. We'll have a better sense of like, what that population looks like; how old is that population? Where is it, that population is staying?" Wilson said. "I think it'll give us a working baseline data as to where we're starting."

The study is estimated to cost $25,000 and will be covered by saved money from the city's previous Social Well-being Survey. The results of this study could be shared with the council later this year, pending the study's complexity.

Hume and Wilson said things like considering the demographics and family dynamics, staffing, and location, all have to be factored into an emergency shelter.

"I think part of it is knowing the population we're also trying to support. Are we looking to house homeless families in that shelter system? That looks very different than if we're looking to house homeless seniors. Are we looking to house homeless youth?"

For the time being Community Links will continue to offer support to anyone who comes through their doors. That support is wide-ranging from counselling services to school support as well as parental education groups. 

A 2022 Calgary Homeless Foundation study found that 2,782 individuals were experiencing some form of homelessness in Calgary. The most common cause for homelessness among respondents was not enough income for housing, followed by conflict with a partner and conflict with a landlord and/or tenant. 13 per cent said that their homelessness was due to substance use issues. 

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