Edwin Kraft pictured in Banff at Botega Salon & Gallery on Wednesday (Jan. 10). Kraft faces housing instability and with the cold weather approaching, Banff business owner Meg Taylor has rallied the community together to help him stay warm. MATTHEW THOMPSON RMO PHOTOMatthew Thompson/Rocky Mountain Outlook

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Staying in a warm Banff hotel is a far cry from where Edwin Kraft has been laying his head at night lately – in a carport where cardboard is stored behind a local business.

Residents of Banff and the Bow Valley are rallying behind Kraft this week as the 66-year-old man, who celebrated his birthday on New Year’s Day, faced housing instability in a polar vortex that’s plunging the Bow Valley and much of the province into a deep freeze.

“Surprised” is one of few words Kraft used to describe the feeling of people helping to put him up at a hotel and out of the bitter cold.

“It’s kinda warm,” he said of his room. “It’s got a television and a great view of the river.”

Normally focused solely on survival and having his basic needs met, Kraft joked that his only worry this week is figuring out the remote control.

A GoFundMe set up five days ago by Meg Taylor, owner of Botega Salon & Gallery in Banff, has so far raised $6,345 to keep a warm roof over Kraft’s head during the extreme cold snap.

Taylor met Kraft when he first moved to Banff – or rather, was left to fend for himself in the town – in March.

Kraft said he was standing outside a parkade one day waiting to walk inside to warm up when the door opened.

“She showed up and she asked if I wanted to sit in the back of her vehicle,” he said.

“To thaw him out because it was so cold,” Taylor explained.

“But we met way before that. I remember seeing you in April when you got to town.”

Over the spring, summer and fall, Taylor and Kraft continued to run into one another and got to know each other.

“We would just sit and chat and I would give him food when I was there because he never asked for it,” Taylor said.

Kraft admitted he’s not the type to ask for help. He’s lost many family members and his support system over the years, and been homeless on and off for most his life. He grew up and has been living in B.C. up until the last four years he’s spent in Alberta.

Edwin Kraft, left, and Meg Taylor, pose for a photo in Banff at Botega Salon and Gallery on Wednesday (Jan. 10). Kraft faces housing instability and with the cold weather approaching, Banff business owner, Taylor, has rallied the community together to help him stay warm. MATTHEW THOMPSON RMO PHOTO

When he came to Banff in March with his brother, who he was staying with at the time, he had little to nothing to his name. But he wasn’t planning on living on the street again.

“My little brother asked me if I wanted to go to Banff,” he said. “He’s dropped me off and left me before, so … that’s how I got to Banff.”

Kraft realized about a month after looking for permanent housing or shelter that finding it in the tourist town with his very limited budget was going to be hard. Finding work has also been difficult.

“The places I checked had no vacancies,” he said, noting at one point he tried the YWCA Banff.

The Y has eight emergency shelter spaces, which CEO Ebony Rempel said are often at capacity. When capacity is reached, the organization has 42 social enterprise hotel spaces for those in need, when they’re available. 

“If our crisis emergency shelters are full and the hotel is not full, which does happen from time to time, we do have the ability to support folks and move them into one of those hotel rooms if they need access to emergency shelter,” she said.

Kraft said he’s looked at shelter options in Canmore, too, but doesn’t know the town well and has trouble finding his way around looking for a place to stay. He said he prefers Banff because he knows it better and has found some respite in knowing where hostels are, and the carport he’s been sleeping in, where it’s far from warm or comfortable but “feels secure.”

It’s where he stayed in November when temperatures dropped to minus 20 degrees Celsius in what has been a relatively mild winter, up until this week.

Environment Canada issued an extreme cold warning Wednesday (Jan. 10), with forecasts calling for temperatures to fall near minus 50 C by Saturday morning (Jan. 13) with wind chills in the Bow Valley area.

The weather agency warned of elevated risks of hypothermia and frostbite, the latter of which can occur in less than 10 minutes on exposed skin at temperatures that low.

“Risks are greater for young children, older adults, people with chronic illnesses, people working or exercising outdoors and those without proper shelter,” Environment Canada’s warning stated.

Taylor said she had trouble sleeping at night thinking about Kraft when temperatures dropped in November.

“Then I couldn’t find him for like three days because he was obviously in hiding. I was also calling around Banff at that time trying to get him in some place and find him shelter, but was told there was no space,” she said.

Before temperatures plummeted this week, she said she tried calling around again to get him into an emergency shelter but came up empty-handed due to lack of space.

“I said to him on the bench at 9:30 in the morning, ‘what’s your plan for this week’? And he was like ‘I haven’t got there yet.’ This was last Saturday,” said Taylor.

She asked Kraft if he was OK with the idea of setting up a GoFundMe and sharing it on social media to help him pay for a place to stay. He accepted the offer.

The intent for the fundraiser was to raise $1,000 for four to five nights for Kraft to stay at a hotel.

“Then it just kept coming and coming,” said Taylor of the donations. “Everybody in the community knows who he is and has seen him around and had conversations with him. It sounds like a lot of people have engaged with Edwin over the last eight months.”

Taylor said enough money has been raised to keep Kraft in his current accommodations until Jan. 17. After that, there is enough for him to extend his stay for several more days. 

“It’s tough times for a lot of people,” said Taylor. “But all I asked for was $1 from every local and people are dropping $20 minimum. It’s going such a long way.”

The hotels where he’s been offered accommodation have also offered discounted rates, she noted.

“I want to thank the community for standing up and coming through. They’re the ones that are making this happen. I just started the process,” said Taylor.

“Without their support, this week would have been a lot harder. So, it’s been amazing to see.”

The province’s 2022 Action Plan on Homelessness noted there were 6,336 people experiencing homelessness across Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Grande Prairie and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo last year. Of those reported, 43 per cent had substance abuse issues, 42 per cent had mental health issues and 58 per cent reported physical health issues.

The report attributed an increase in homelessness to increases in rent and provincial immigration. Nearly 4,000 of those counted as experiencing homelessness were using emergency shelters or were unsheltered in 2022.

During the 108 nights the Homelessness Society of the Bow Valley’s (HSBV) emergency winter shelter was open in 2022-23, 30 individuals accessed the space for an average of 2.3 guests per night and a total of 263 bed nights, according to the non-profit’s annual report. 

The Canmore-based shelter had its longest operating period to date in 2022-23 and was open from Dec. 15 to April 1.

“Increased use and access to HSBV programs emphasizes the continued, growing concerns related to homelessness and housing insecurity within the Bow Valley,” stated the report. 

Rempel noted the Y’s partnership with HSBV allows for transportation between Banff and Canmore should there be available shelter space in one community and not the other. 

“We’re not in the business of turning people away, especially when it’s minus 40 C,” she said. “We don’t want anyone to be sleeping outside anytime of the year but especially when we see these kinds of temperatures. We would encourage anybody that needs a space to stay to reach out either by coming on site to 102 Spray Ave [in Banff] or give us a call.”

Rempel said it’s important to note that in order for the Y to assist, a person in need must provide consent, either directly or through someone else permitted to speak on their behalf. Other supports, including assistance to find permanent housing and trauma-informed counselling are also available. 

“We try really hard to meet people where they’re at,” she said. 

Taylor said many people have also been asking how to support Kraft with donations of clothing, gift cards for food and winter gear.

As of Wednesday (Jan. 10), she said people have donated jeans, sweaters, three sets of thermals, socks, gloves, two pairs of winter boots, shirts and balaclavas. 

As for finding more stable housing, Kraft is hopeful something will arise because he wants to stay in Banff. He enjoys the great outdoors and he said people have been good to him.

“It’s refreshing to see this response and the community standing by him,” said Taylor.

To donate to the GoFundMe, visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/wfebz-edwin.

Those in need of emergency shelter support and who may be facing housing instability are encouraged to contact the YWCA Banff at 403-762-3560, on site, or through its website at www.ywcabanff.ca. To access HSBV’s shelter in Canmore or for more information on outreach programs, visit Scout Hall at 918 Main St., call 403-493-3771, or go to www.bowvalleyshelter.ca.

By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jan 11, 2024 at 22:49

This item reprinted with permission from   Rocky Mountain Outlook   Canmore, Alberta

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