Food and warm clothing are the items most often requested from Turning Point’s NightReach team this winter.
Aisley Miles, program manager for harm reduction programs, said the team also provides support, referrals and harm reduction supplies. But it’s snacks that are in high demand, especially if clients miss free meals offered at local soup kitchens.
“There is food available (in the community), but I would say it isn’t consistent enough to meet the needs, especially when you have a population that is moving and continually active, and probably utilizing a lot of energy,” Miles said.
NightReach is a mobile outreach program that provides after hours support in the downtown, city parks and river valley areas. A two-member team walks the streets and paths 365 days a year. In the winter, they are on the job from 7 to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 6 to 10 p.m. on the weekends.
In January, NightReach staff made over 1,000 contacts with 609 different people.
Miles said fewer people were out at night during the extreme cold in February. Instead, the team received calls for deliveries.
“During the cold we want to make sure that we can support people in whatever way we can. One person contacted saying he had a doctor’s appointment the next day and was wondering if we had any warm clothes we could provide him because he had to get there, and he was wondering if he could access bus tickets.”
She said lately clients have been waiting for the NightReach team right outside Turning Point’s downtown office. The office’s small front deck is also where day staff have met with clients during the pandemic.
A COVID grant is paying for a new deck with an awning, outdoor heaters and renovations to the entrance.
“We’re really grateful for that. Construction is underway. Hopefully it will be done soon.”
Miles said the lack of anonymity on the deck means in-depth conversations with clients have not been happening as often.
“I wish that we could offer more right now. Hopefully we can look at reopening sometime in the near future even if it’s in a limited capacity. But we’ve got to make sure our staff is taken care of so we can continue to serve people and make sure we’re not putting anyone at risk.”
Funding for the new deck was provided through the COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund, distributed by United Way Central Alberta and funded by the Government of Canada.
During construction clients can still access services at the side door.