October 22nd, 2020

Homeless feeling strain of outbreak


By Jensen, Randy on March 21, 2020.

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald

tkalinowski@lethbridgherald.com

The city’s homeless are trying to get on as best they can despite the COVID-19 crisis, but are beginning to feel the strains of the outbreak like everyone else in the community.

The streets are calm for now, says Julie Kissick, co-founder of Streets Alive Mission.

“They are not concerned yet because they probably just deal with a lot of stuff all the time,” she says. “They kind of take it all in stride. They are not overly concerned because they are just surviving. Most of them are already in survival mode, right? If the first case hits, it just changes things again. They don’t travel. They have already survived how many flu bugs that have come through. They probably don’t feel as jeopardized as the rest of us do.”

“I think everyone is more respectable about stuff,” agrees Sheldon Wells, who has been living homeless on Lethbridge’s streets for the past two years. “They are not worried about it. Everyone has respect for each other, eh? Homeless people are still people.”

Be that as it may, Kissick says those feelings could change if shortages begin cropping up in other aspects of their lives where they depend on social support.

“For us, it has to be business as usual because we are the place where they get clothing, food, their cash,” she says. “We trustee their monies. They don’t have bank accounts. So it is not like we can close, and say, ‘Figure it out, guys.'”

And despite keeping many services going, Kissick says donations of food, clothing and cash are certainly needed at Streets Alive at the moment.

“We have an emergency food bank ourselves which is now empty,” she explains. “We are out of jeans because people are not bringing us their regular clothing donations. So we are run out of certain things. We have started ourselves an emergency response fund because we have people coming into our housing, and because all of the tie-ups at Alberta Works we are actually supporting them. We are buying them medication. We are getting them clothing.”

Darcy Bonneau, another of the city’s homeless, says he has noticed tempers getting a little shorter over the last week at the shelter.

“It’s getting more packed (at the shelter), and people are fighting more,” he says. “It’s getting bad.”

So far it has been largely confined to name calling and the like, Bonneau says, but people are more under strain because of the cold weather and the fact they are worried about getting swept up in the larger COVID-19 crisis.

“The last few days have been quiet (downtown),” he says. “I went down 13th Street this morning and everything is closed. There’s no food in the stores, I guess. I went into Alberta Works the other day and there is no one to talk to. Like I said, everything is closed.”

Bonneau hoped the outbreak would be brought under control soon.

“I just hope they get this under control so I can get back to normal life.”

Kissick predicts things could become even more strained among the city’s homeless as the crisis wears on. She is asking for more community support to help mitigate the worst effects of the situation.

“If they can help, they can just go online to our website and see a button which says ‘Emergency Response Fund’ to donate. If they can bring us things, we have a buzzer at the back door if they don’t want to come through the front or don’t feel comfortable. They can buzz the back door and a staff member will meet them there. We desperately need jeans. We need food as well. On Sundays, we are the only organization in town which actually feeds people and provides a hot meal.”

Kissick says they do have bleach and soap in abundance, but that’s about it. She would appreciate it if there is anything anyone can do in the city to help.

To learn more about how you can help the city’s homeless during this COVID-19 crisis visit streetsalive.ca.

-With files from Ian Martens

Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter

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