Safe Harbour offers shelter to homeless in H1N1 crisis

An emergency shelter opens this afternoon to care for an alarming number of Red Deer’s homeless suffering from the flu.

Safe Harbour Society program coordinator brings blankets into the sleeping quarters of a temporary care centre being set up in the Cronquist Business Park on Thursday.

An emergency shelter opens this afternoon to care for an alarming number of Red Deer’s homeless suffering from the flu.

Central Alberta’s Safe Harbour Society for Health and Housing has set up the shelter at an empty building donated by the city after more and more homeless fell ill from the flu during the second wave of the H1N1 influenza pandemic.

“We’re now averaging about 12, 13 people a night who are displaying some flu symptoms. Some have been hospitalized,” said Colleen Markus, director of programs with Safe Harbour, which operates an overnight mat program for people with addictions.

“We are the home for so many folk, we realized very quickly that Safe Harbour alone could not handle the numbers and health care they would need.”

Past bouts with seasonal flu among the Safe Harbour clients have never been this bad, she said on Thursday.

Safe Harbour has about eight clients with the flu now staying at its mat program during the day.

Markus expects 10 to 15 beds to be occupied at the flu shelter after the doors open.

The shelter is at the city’s former Electric Light and Power office in Cronquist Business Park, at 5581 45th St.

On Thursday, 25 cots were being set up, supplied by the city. Cartons of bottled water were ready. Safe Harbour staff were discussing operating procedures. City maintenance, cleaning and technical staff were busy preparing the building.

“This is the perfect site. There are enough little rooms that we can isolate people if they need to be,” Markus said.

Three weeks ago, Safe Harbour started to see flu among the homeless in Red Deer.

Markus said it didn’t take long for the city and other community agencies to join Safe Harbour to make the shelter a reality.

“Everyone was just pulling together. You name it. If it needs to be done — it’s done.”

No one from Alberta Health Services in Central Alberta was available to comment on the shelter on Thursday, which was the first day public vaccination clinics reopened.

“Alberta Health Services had representation at our organization meeting this week. We were happy for it and we’re still waiting for answers as to how they can help us,” said Kath Hoffman, Safe Harbour executive director.

Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling said addressing the needs of the homeless during the flu epidemic has “fallen into that crack between Alberta Health Services and the municipalities.”

“Red Deer has seen a need and stepped in,” Flewwelling said.

“In former times, we worked very closely as a municipality with public health.”

Thursday morning in Edmonton, senior Alberta Health Services officials announced that four more Albertans have died from H1N1 in recent days, including one person from Central Alberta.

Two of them were elderly and two were middle aged. At least three of them had risk factors making them more susceptible to flu complications.

Since April, 18 Albertans have died and 314 hospitalized.

About 25 per cent of intensive care patients in Alberta have either confirmed or suspected H1N1 influenza.

“Given the amount of influenza circulating in the community now, having four deaths is not unexpected,” said Dr. Gerry Predy, Alberta Health Services’ Senior Medical Officer of Health.

Vaccinations are currently limited to children aged six months to under five years and pregnant women.

Access will eventually be expanded to people with chronic illnesses, but which illnesses must still be determined.

For information on the flu shelter, call Safe Harbour at 403-347-0181. Donations of men’s pyjamas, slippers, sweat pants and socks will be gratefully accepted.

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