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Calgary reducing numbers in homeless shelters; relocating some to hotels

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CALGARY — The City of Calgary will be decreasing the number of people staying in homeless shelters and housing some of them in hotels to try to limit the effect of COVID-19.

The city said it is shrinking the total number of shelter spaces by 400.

"We're trying to reduce the population we have in the homeless centres and move those folks out to spread them out a bit so that we don't get a rampant outbreak," Tom Sampson, head of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, said Monday.

Mayor Neheed Nenshi said he has had conversations with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney over the past few days about the measures and has the provincial government's support.

"It is the greatest public health issue that we're facing today," Nenshi said.

"All the advice we're giving people about self-isolating, washing your hands is awfully hard to do if you don't have access to a sink, if you're sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder with someone on a mat."

He said people sent to hotels will be those who are at low risk and don't need 24-hour services.

"For those who remain in the shelters we need to enforce much more physical distances, perhaps space between people, maybe even barriers between peoples' sleeping quarters," Nenshi said.

The city also announced Monday closure of all of its 1,100 playgrounds, although parks will remain open.

Nenshi is continuing to urge members of the public to follow the rules and continue to self-isolate.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2020

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The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version erroneously said the City of Calgary was shrinking the number of spaces in each shelter by 400.