CREB staff take in shelter from perspective of single-mothers

As part of Claire’s Campaign 2015, members of the public were invited to experience Calgary’s Inn from the Cold from a perspective of a single-mother.

Claire’s Campaign is named for the mother of businessman and philanthropist Gary Nissen, who has offered to match every donation made to Inn from the Cold during the month of May to a maximum of $200,000.

Some CREB staff participated in the experience today, here’s a timeline of what went down.


We arrive early for our 1 p.m. intake. We’re welcomed and sent to a seating area. Surrounded by cheery yellow paint and phrases like “collaboration”, “respect” and “acceptance” we’re given our intake forms. Between the three of us: we have six children (with one on the way), one of us has a physical disability, one of us is escaping family violence and one of us can’t afford our rent.


A gentleman sits down with us and explains services available including bathroom and telephone. He says the shelter is pretty busy so there might be a wait and asks if we’ve had any drugs or alcohol lately as the shelter won’t accept people under the influence within the last four days.


We’ve been informed we forgot out “luggage” outside and are presented with a black trash bag full of some clothes. A recording of noisy kids is played to simulate what the atmosphere of the shelter is like during a usual intake. All staff we come across are soft-spoken and calming.


We’re addressed by staff, who tell us in order to complete our intake there are a few rights and responsibilities. We’re told we have the right to remain safe, express our opinion, have a right to privacy, a right to access our file and a right to support from the cultural community of our choosing. The shelter is at 100 per cent capacity for the night so we’re given the opportunity to hang out until 3:30 for registration followed by a bus ride to Knox United Church where we’ll be given dinner and a place to sleep.


We make our way to the Kid Zone for children who aren’t yet old enough to go to school. We’re asked to keep our “children” with us at all times as we form a circle on the floor. There’s bright colours and toys and books all around us. Staff expresses the importance of parent/child interaction and is sympathetic that many of us wouldn’t of had that type of interaction growing up (some reasons being we were in the foster system or our parents were sent to residential schools). We’re told more than 57 per cent of children who stay in shelters like Inn from the Cold will have developmental delays hence the importance of playtime held every morning including songs and rhyme to encourage literacy development.

1:18: We head up to the third floor, which has capacity for 20 families. Families have communal washrooms and eating areas and share the laundry facilities. The inn averages about 300 loads of laundry a week. Families stay in cubicles – without doors for safety and share in chore duties. The average length of a stay at the Inn is two months. In 2014, during Calgary’s vacancy crunch, the shelter was over capacity for 97 per cent of the year.

1:36: Our experience over, we head to the kitchen where we learn more about what the Inn is all about. We’re told it’s rare the public gets to experience the shelter in this way. One person questions expansion of the Inn. Money isn’t necessarily the problem as there’s lots of fundraising avenues, but it’s not easy finding a building, or land for a new building, as Calgary only has a handful of parcels of land which, because of land use bylaws, will allow a shelter.