We Can Do More. We Have To.
Like many, I was shaken to learn on Sunday morning that one of our fellow Edmontonians had died outside near an LRT station, and that police believed his death was due to the cold.
While we don’t know the particular circumstances, it was with this loss in mind that I came into City Hall Monday morning determined to learn what more could be done to help reduce weather-related fatalities in our winter city. Many residents who shared this concern were asking why the LRT station wasn’t open throughout that night and what the City is doing to try to help prevent these kinds of tragedies. There is no blame to be cast, just questions to be asked. The answers told me that we’re doing a lot, but that we can do more.
The good news is that our City is, and has been for some time, an active partner in trying to make sure Edmontonians stay safe in extreme cold weather. Administration works with the Winter Emergency Response Committee to open LRT stations for the full night if the temperature drops below -20 once they’ve been given notification from agency partners that shelters are full. LRT stations are normally open 21 hours per day, so this means making them accessible for an additional 3 hours overnight.
The problem is this protocol makes it difficult for anyone on any given day to know if the LRT station is going to be open all night or not. The inconsistency may even set people up with an expectation that it will be open if it was open the night before and they may find themselves stranded if it’s not.
It’s become clear to me, and to the many residents of Ward 4 who’ve contacted me, that people should not have to guess whether stations are open or closed when they need a safe refuge from dangerously cold weather. We need to be more consistent.
That’s why I proposed today that Council ask Administration to immediately open up stations 24 hrs/day during extreme weather events and to develop a formal policy for determining the best way to ensure winter weather safety going forward.
In response, Administration decided to open up access to the Central LRT station 24 hrs/day for the next 7 days and Council unanimously passed a Motion for them to work with partner agencies to formalize a plan to bring back for approval.
While the results of this debate in Council are not exactly what I was hoping for (I would rather see every station opened 24/7 automatically during extreme weather), I have been assured that Transit Peace Officers will do everything they can to make sure that no one needing respite from the cold is left behind. They will monitor all other stations and the surrounding area through patrols and cameras to ensure that anyone stranded will be transported to safety, whether that be to a shelter or the Central station.
I think that providing more access to safe space is the very least that we can do for Edmontonians who are trying to make it through the night. With so much more that has to be done to address poverty, mental health challenges, and access to housing in our city, this is just one tiny step we can make in the right direction.
I’m looking forward to a proposed policy coming back and I hope that this is taken as an opportunity to find better ways for us to do more to address the roots of homelessness, not just mitigate the symptoms with a costly patchwork of supports. I’ll certainly be pushing for that.
We should all have a chance to make it through winter alive, and to thrive in our community.
If you see someone outside in the cold who needs assistance, please call 211 and ask for the warming van to be sent to the location.