Dangers of extreme cold for people living on Edmonton’s streets

As bitter temperatures grip Edmonton, how will those living outside in encampments survive this cold snap? Bailey Nitti talks to the city’s vulnerable about the dangers they face living outside.

A cold snap that has seen temperatures feeling like minus-33 Celsius is putting some of Edmonton’s most vulnerable people at risk.

On many downtown streets there are lines of tents, sometimes reaching from one end of the block to the other.

It’s shelter for people living outside as they try to get some respite from the elements.

“I saved up for a generator, so I don’t freeze. I’ve been homeless since last winter,” said Terrence Mercer. “Before I was living with candles and blankets but I’m not doing that this year.”

Mercer spends countless sleepless, cold nights in his tent outside. He says staying in a shelter would mean leaving his belongings behind.

“I’ve tried the homeless shelters but that means my things are left outside and I’ve been robbed for all my things 10 times. No clothes and having to use agencies to get clothes again. It’s hard,” he said.

orange tent on snowy land

Edmonton homeless encampment. (Credit: CityNews/Bailey Nitti)

Mercer isn’t alone. Andrew Crier, who stays in a tent on the same street, is in a similar situation.

“I’ve had my shoes taken right off my feet while I was sleeping in a shelter and that’s why I don’t go anymore. I would rather stay outside than be in a shelter,” Crier said.


Crier says he spends his nights in a tent huddled with a group of people. He says he’s used to the cold now and surviving the night has become routine.

“We’re just going to keep doing the same things we do every day. We all band together and sometimes when there’s enough of us, that’s all the heat we need.”

Nearly 3,000 homeless people in Edmonton

Current statistics from Edmonton’s Homeward Trust suggest there are about 2,800 homeless people in Edmonton. More than half are Indigenous, the numbers show. Nearly half are women, and a quarter are under 18 years old.

Crier says affordable housing would be a great start for him to get back on his feet.

“Housing is huge,” said Crier. “Without stability and when you don’t have a place to go after work, where do you go? What do you do?”

Until then, he hopes to spread his message.

“We’re just normal people like you guys,” said Crier. “I’ve worked, I’ve had a job. Kindness, compassion, and understanding is all we really want.”

Some are doing that in the inner city. One Edmontonian was gifting holiday stockings filled with necessities on Monday.

“I do this on my own and it’s my third winter now. It’s all done by donations,” said Megan Dutot Lee, who fills stockings for Edmonton’s homeless.

Each gift bag has hats, gloves, scarves, snacks and juice boxes. Some have hygiene products for women.

“I know our numbers have risen over the last few years and it’s hard to assist everyone, but every little bit helps,” said Lee.

WATCH: Dangerously cold temperatures sweeping through Calgary

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