The Alberta government says it will be working with cities to deliver more help for the homeless during the COVID-19 crisis.
Premier Jason Kenney says the province will be providing extra cash and staff to set up overflow homeless shelters and spots for people who need to self-isolate.
“Alberta Health Services will provide medical support, public-health support … to these backup homeless locations,” Kenney told the house Friday in response to questions from the Opposition NDP.
Community and Social Services is also to be involved.
“The government shares (the Opposition’s) concern and that of the mayor of Edmonton about the unique vulnerability of the homeless with respect to this pandemic.”
Kenney said the Expo convention centre in north Edmonton will be used as an overflow location for the homeless and front-line staff will be dispatched.
He said Calgary has also identified backup locations.
The government has already promised $60 million for charitable and non-profit groups to support seniors and other vulnerable populations hit hard by COVID-19.
Also Friday, the government, with the support of the NDP, introduced and passed in one sitting changes to better co-ordinate provincial and municipal roles and rules in delivering aid.
Opposition Leader Rachel Notley renewed her call for Kenney to pass legislation to stop landlords from evicting tenants who don’t pay rent come April 1.
Kenney said he would consider it but noted some landlords have promised they won’t evict. He also suggested there could be unintended consequences of such a broad law, because people still may need to be evicted for other reasons, such as criminal activity.
Kenney said Alberta’s health system has 477 adult critical ventilators, with 50 more already ordered. There are also 78 pediatric critical care ventilators
He said Alberta is working with other provinces to obtain more ventilators. “We don’t think we’ll need them, but in an excess of caution we’ll participate in that program.”
NDP critic Joe Ceci urged the province to backstop funding for municipalities to allow towns and cities to defer property taxes, something that would cost billions of dollars.
Finance Minister Travis Toews said the government is working with municipal officials on financial relief programs but he didn’t list specific initiatives.
Labour Minister Jason Copping said workplace health and safety inspectors are focusing on health-care facilities to make sure, among other things, staff have enough personal protective gear such as masks.
On the food front, Kenney said the province is not inclined to legislate limiting customers in grocery stores to prevent large gatherings, but pointed out some chains are already doing so on their own.
Earlier this week, Kenney declared a public health emergency.
Gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned, and schools, daycares and public recreation facilities have been shuttered. There are hard limits on the number of people who can go to restaurants.
The province is also providing a bridge payment of $1,146 to anyone who must self-isolate but can’t get federal employment insurance until April 1, when revised federal emergency care benefits kick in.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press