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In these extraordinary days when so many are being asked to self-isolate and stay home, what happens to those who don’t have a home? Edmonton is trying to answer that need, using the Expo Centre at Northlands as a day shelter where 4-500 people experiencing homelessness can still access the things they need for daily life.

Inner City Pastoral Ministry (ICPM), an interdenominational Christian ministry of presence in Edmonton’s urban core, plays a significant role in the city’s response to homelessness. Like other social service agencies coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, it has had to quickly adapt its services to continue to safely meet the needs of the city's vulnerable population.

Ordinarily based out of the Bissell Centre, ICPM is now part of the centralized operations at the Expo Centre. An ETS shuttle runs back and forth between Boyle Street and Northlands. People are able to come in to the centre each day, from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, to use the washroom, have a shower, take a nap or have a meal. Services such as a tax clinic, clothing storage, chaplaincy and counselling, as well an opportunity to connect with Housing First are also available. More services are being added daily.

ICPM team members Jim Gurnett, Michelle Nieviadomy and Rick Chapman maintain a presence with the Bissell Centre in Hall A, from 10:00am to noon, Monday to Friday. They offer spiritual care, quiet conversation and distribute essential items such as socks and underwear. They are gratefully accepting donations of underwear, in all sizes, for both men and women. Please contact Jim Gurnett on his cell phone (780-218-6989) for delivery. At the moment, they have plenty of socks.  

ICPM pastor the Rev. Rick Chapman says emergency relief workers at the EXPO Centre are doing their best to maintain a safe environment and prevent the spread of COVID-19. People are met coming into the facility by a Bissell staff member who takes their temperature to assess their health. Patrons who do not have an elevated temperature are then able to register and proceed to Hall A, a large, open, well ventilated space with high ceilings.  

People lining up for services are kept at a safe distance from one another by standing within tape boundaries on the floor. Tables are set up with barriers in place to maintain social distancing when people sit down. To the rear of the hall, 35 day cots are set up for people needing a rest, again with proper distancing. At night, Hope Mission, the George Spady Centre and the Kinsmen Centre in the river valley are open for people to sleep.  

“The site is well organized on every level, including staff care,” says Chapman. “The Bissell team and other agencies are partnering in this venture, which the social care professionals say, ‘seems to be working.’”  

He says, “Security is present throughout the building and Bissell staff maintain a friendly supervision of the site. The atmosphere is congenial and the patrons, as usual, are thankfully appreciative of the services offered.”  

Meanwhile, ICPM has found a way to continue its year-round (52 weeks) Sunday lunch program, which is provided by volunteers from more than 80 local churches, synagogues and a mosque. Instead of patrons being invited to the Bissell Centre to worship with the Emmanuel community and enjoy a sit-down meal and fellowship, the ICPM ministry team will hand out bag lunches through the door from 10:30am to noon, with any leftover lunches to be distributed at the Expo Centre.  

Churches in Tofield are donating lunches this Sunday. They will be pre-bagged in Tofield and delivered to Bissell Centre. Last week lunch was provided by St. Albert Evangelical Lutheran Church.

ICPM team members also continue to connect with people on the street by throughout the week. Pastor Rick says they covet our prayers, now and going forward, “remembering that we are only about three weeks into this pandemic.”