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As flood relief begins, Calgary residents long for home

Written by John Rieti
Published by CBC on Saturday, June 22, 2013

Even at emergency shelter for homeless, the importance of being home is clear

Sitting on the step of a U-Haul truck, Rob Vanmil says he can’t wait to get home.

“I don’t like sleeping on the floor,” Vanmil told CBC News in a gruff but friendly voice. “But it hasn’t been unpleasant.”

Vanmil is one of the 800-or-so homeless people staying at an emergency shelter near McKnight Boulevard in Calgary’s northeast. He, like many here, is a long-term resident at the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre, one of the city’s largest shelters, which was evacuated along with much of the downtown on Friday morning.

Looking around, Vanmil says it’s important that the Drop-In’s residents get back into their home soon.

“You can tell they’re nervous,” Vanmil said.

“That’s their home, this is a big family.”

Robert Hubert, who volunteers in the centre’s kitchen, nods along. He says he was worried by the sight of swelling rivers and heavy rain on Thursday night, but it wasn’t until he was getting ready to prepare breakfast at 7 a.m. that he was told, “You gotta go.”

When Hubert arrived at the emergency shelter-a former Quality Inn hotel purchased by the shelter for emergency situations-he was quickly put to work. The Calgary-based international aid organization delivered over 200 pizzas. Outside, on Friday and Saturday, a steady stream of cars pulled up to drop off sandwiches and cookies. Calgary’s Muslim community drew huge lines by serving free shwarma from a truck in the parking lot.

“I spent nine-and-a-half hours in the kitchen,” Hubert said with a smile. “All that food-where do you put it all?”

Inside the hotel-turned-shelter, volunteers have filled the drained swimming pool with clothes and are sorting toiletries into individual kits.

Looking on, Drop-In manager Jordan Hamilton said he’s amazed by the community’s response.

“We only exist because of them,” Hamilton said.

“Ugly work” ahead

John Clayton, of Samaritan’s Purse, said Calgarians wanting to help out with the relief efforts will have plenty of chances.

“It’s going to be a challenging couple of weeks,” Clayton said, warning there’s plenty of “ugly work” like ahead clearing muck out of flooded basements.

Clayton has provided relief in other flooding situations in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. He said it’s crucial to clear mud and water quickly to avoid problems with mould, but that can prove difficult for some homeowners.

“They just get stuck,” Clayton said. “Some will have no idea what to do.”

Samaritan’s Purse is preparing to deploy a trailer full of specialized equipment, portable showers, and it may even bring in people to help with the flood clean-up, Clayton said.

Many areas will soon need the help. By Saturday afternoon, Calgary officials were considering letting people back into six neighbourhoods.

For Vanmil and Hubert, however, the wait may be longer. Both said they were told they may not be back to their regular spots in the shelter until next Tuesday.

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