Cold alert issued for Hamilton as shelters remain at full capacity, outbreak

A cold weather alert has been issued for Hamilton for the second time this week as shelters continue to struggle with capacity and a city official said up to 35 people are without accommodations.

The alert was put in place for Friday evening, warning that exposure to cold can be dangerous.

Environment Canada is forecasting a low of -17C, which could look like -26C with the wind chill. Temperatures are expected to remain near -15°C through Saturday.

This comes as the city’s shelter system continues to be strained by COVID-19 outbreaks which have limited available space and staff.

“I don’t want to underestimate the seriousness of the current situation in our system,” Edward John, director of Hamilton Housing Services, told councilors at a meeting Thursday. He estimated that 30 to 35 people are currently homeless.

John said staffing shortages continued to be “very critical,” but the city was looking at ways to increase capacity, including about 20 men’s spaces that opened throughout the week.

COVID-19 outbreaks are ongoing at nine city shelters Friday, with a total of 99 cases, according to public health data.

An outbreak at the Salvation Army Booth Center accounts for 21 of those cases — 8 staff members and 13 residents.

The shelter stopped allowing admissions earlier this week, but spokesperson Billy Canning said it has since resumed taking people in “on a case-by-case basis”.

The Booth Center’s administrative space has been reconfigured into an isolation area for those who have tested positive and there are fewer than five beds available, Canning said in an email Friday.

Cold, COVID-19 and capacity issues

Community groups are also joining the push for more services as the number of cases rises and temperatures drop.

“The worsening crises of cold, covid and an overcapacity shelter system have created a life-threatening situation in an already strained system,” said Karl Andrus of the Hamilton Community Benefits Network.

Adrus’ statement was included in a press release from a group called the Just Recovery Hamilton Coalition, which released six calls to action for the city as cold weather approaches this weekend.

The list included increasing space in isolation centers for homeless people who tested positive for COVID-19, expanding access to warming centers and finding ways to put in set up temporary shelters.

With so many people still working from home, there is space across the city where people without homes could seek refuge, the organization said. He then asked residents or business owners interested in participating to contact them.

“Community groups across the province have found innovative ways to collaborate and provide heated indoor spaces in non-community settings to keep homeless people safe,” wrote Tom Cooper, Hamilton Roundtable Director for poverty reduction.

“We can and must act to protect our community’s most vulnerable residents this winter!”

The warming centers are open

The city said it notified agencies that work with the homeless and other vulnerable communities of the cold alert.

The Bennetto Recreation Center, located at 450 Hughson Street N., will serve as a warm-up center for the duration of the alert.

Four other recreation centers will also serve as warm-up locations from noon to 7 p.m.

The Hub at 78 Vine Street is also acting as a warming center with extended hours from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. during the alert and the Wesley Day Center at 52 Catherine St. N. will be open at the following times:

  • Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight.
  • Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to midnight.
  • Sunday from 1 p.m. to midnight.

Anyone wishing to report the location of someone in need of shelter is asked to call The Salvation Army at 905-527-1444 ext. 0.

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