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Homeless people have started to frequent campus in recent years.
John McDonald/the Gauntlet

Braving the cold

Calgary's homeless population migrate to new areas≠--including the U of C

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During an abominably frigid week like this, the plight of the homeless is blatant. Even through the better parts of the year, the signs are all around us­--including a physical prescence on campus.

At the Calgary Drop-In Centre, staff have noticed a massive increase in the number of individuals choosing to seek refuge on the second-floor day area. This swelling daytime population is also seen at dinner. The DIC usually feeds around 800 people, but is now serving between 1,100 and 1,200. At night, the centre is finding a crowd of roughly 1,050 individuals, just 50 shy of capacity. Some agencies run outreach programs that bring individuals to the DIC if they are found outside in the freezing cold. DIC spokesperson Louise Gallagher noted that the DIC will not turn anyone away when it is dangerously cold outside, but mentioned it was very stressful for staff to admit individuals when they know the facility is already beyond capacity. However, they haven't been at capacity since Nov. The Mustard Seed's new temporary shelter is seen as the reason for this.

"We haven't been at capacity since [the temporary winter shelter] opened," said Gallagher. "That's been fabulous for us."

Interestingly, the winter shelter hasn't been filling up either, with roughly the same number of clients per night as were at the Brick last year. In addition to alleviating the shelter space crisis, the winter shelter, located in the industrial South East, has had other benefits.

"Sixty-four men and one woman have gotten jobs in the Foothills area," said Mustard Seed developent officer Diana Schwenk.

Despite the fact the near-minus 50 degree temperatures haven't brought the shelters to capacity, there are signs that the homeless population in the city is growing. The next homeless count, to be conducted in a few months, is expected to find a considerable increase in the number of homeless in Calgary, pushing the total from 3,400 to over 4,000.

As the homeless community expands, so too the range of areas they frequent.

"There was a time when Calgary's homeless population seemed to be concentrated in the downtown and East Village area," said Campus Security director Lanny Fritz. "The presence of homeless people in the suburbs is a relatively new trend."

It is only in recent years that there have been homeless individuals frequenting campus. Schwenk suspected this trend is partly due to the ease of access from the LRT. Gallagher noted that it may also be a comfortable environment.

"Sometimes it may be that they feel they can blend in on a university campus, more so than downtown," said Gallagher. "It could be that they have a better opportunity to [not be] disturbed for being homeless."

Fritz explained there doesn't seem to be any time of year where there are more homeless individuals on campus than others--though complaints of people camping on university property occur solely in the summer. He mentioned that on occasion, homeless individuals on campus are involved with security incidents. Notable amongst these is the substantial theft of recyclables. Unsurprisingly, there are also complaints of people sleeping in public areas. If these individuals turn out to be homeless, campus security directs them to the shelters downtown. It's not an overwhelming problem, though.

"It must also be stated that, just because there is a presence of homeless people on campus at times, there is only a small few whose behaviour comes to the attention of Campus Security," said Fritz.

While agreeing that the jump in the number of homeless on campus in the past year is largely due to the LRT and the fact that the university is something of a safe haven, Fritz had another reason for the increase.

"I believe the downtown Police officers in District 1, in their effort to minimize people sleeping, panhandling and loitering in public places by moving them on [have contributed to the increase]," he said.

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Comments

There's a guy who hangs out near Market Mall and panhandles. I find that really appalling. I moved to the burbs to get away from reality.