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We must prioritize the vulnerable in our community during freezing climates

By Reyam Jamaleddine, February 1 2024—

On bitter winter days, the dreaded walks to the bus or the few minutes of waiting for the car to heat up are assured to come to an end, where warmth will be grasped and the dire need for safety is only a mere thought in the back of one’s mind. In the warmth of five-fingered gloves and a full scarf, it becomes a challenge between yourself and the biting winds of below -20 temperature — a challenge known to be defeated by most. In any case, warmth is guaranteed for most of us living in the polar vortex. However, for many — there is no guarantee of warmth. 

This month in Calgary, temperatures dropped below -30, and this bitter cold snap will continue to freeze overnights during the winter. People without homes in our city have absolutely no guarantee for warmth, safety, comfort or certainty that their well-being will be intact. As a community, we must prioritize the safety of people with no homes in our city. Exposure to extreme cold weather can lead to frostnip, frostbite, trench foot, hypothermia and even loss of life. The lack of winter-safe clothing can dramatically accelerate these diagnoses. These are inhuman conditions that people who walk alongside us on the streets every day suffer from. It is an obligation for all of us to care for the people who call this city home as much as we do. 

We must ensure that our governments and institutions are taking action to ensure the safety of those who direly need it. The city of Calgary and The Calgary Homeless Foundation alongside community partners have implemented emergency shuttles alongside LRT stations across the city. The Salvation Army will also set up warming stations at two LRT stations per day across the city. These warming stations will be open from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. — leaving the cold eerie nights a terrifying place for those who remain without shelter. As of 2021, there are 1,150 emergency spaces for homeless people to stay in overnight in Calgary. Although these spaces are available, many homeless people choose to sleep in the extreme weather rather than stay in these shelters due to safety concerns. For people who are vulnerable, designated safe spaces can be the complete opposite in dire times of need. This is why as individuals, we must step in and take any action that we can to dampen the effects of extreme weather on human beings. 

Every Calgarian understands the cut-throat winds and eerily freezing days that come upon us every year. For these reasons, the vulnerable people in our community rely on us to understand and empathize with the pain of living in these climates. Small gestures such as finding a forgotten pair of gloves, scarves, toques, boots and coats and donating these items to the local Salvation Army or the Mustard Seed can have drastic and life-saving effects. In addition to donating warm supplies, donating sanitary and hygiene-related items can assuredly help those who are suffering during this cold snap. Alongside the unbearable weather, homeless women in Calgary still experience menstrual cycles. Donating toiletry products including heating water bottles for women can assist those who are in need. If you have time, volunteer at the Calgary Homeless Foundation, the Salvation Army, the Mustard Seed, the Women’s Centre or any other facility that prioritizes and cares for homeless people. These are seemingly small steps that individuals can take to help make big changes for the vulnerable in our community. 

These are not long-term solutions, these efforts will not magically create a better future for homeless people in Calgary, but at the very least they will allow someone to feel their toes, feel their fingers and protect their face and ears from bitter winds. Being warm is a humanitarian concern that we can all address and create positive change for. As we do such, we must also continue to advocate for long-term solutions that should be implemented by our governments and institutions. 

This winter, as you step into the foot of snow with your toes snuggled into a warm pair of boots and your ears tucked into a knitted toque, think of a homeless person who is at risk of losing their toes and ears due to the lack of winter gear and extreme weather. Make it a priority every winter, to donate your unused winter items and to continue to inform all those around you about the dire need to take care of the vulnerable in our community. Stay warm, stay safe and stay empathetic.

This article is a part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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