A man was found dead inside a Hope Mission facility earlier this week, but the body may have been there for longer.
A person who was allegedly staying at the Spectrum building, where the mission runs a temporary shelter, found the body at the facility on Oct. 18.
"Our hearts go out to everyone who knew, cared for and loved this man," said Lauren Reid, Hope Mission community liason.
"We are doing everything we can to support staff at this time, as well as the person who discovered [the deceased]. It is equally heartbreaking for all of them."
The mission is investigating how this occurred so it can prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future, Reid said.
The Edmonton Police Service was notified. The death is being treated as non-criminal, so police are unable to provide further information, a spokesperson told CBC News.
Reid says the man passed away from a "currently unknown medical problem."
Hope Mission opened a 24-7 shelter at Commonwealth Stadium last November to create more space for people who, because of COVID-19 public health measures, could not fit into the shelter downtown.
The shelter was moved to the Spectrum building last spring.
The building, located on the former site of the Northlands Park Racetrack & Casino, was not designed to be a shelter, Reid said, noting that it's a large facility with multiple stories.
Prior to moving in, mission staff walked through the building with City of Edmonton facility maintenance staff, police and firefighters, among other groups, to ensure the site was safe, said Tim Pasma, Hope Mission manager of homeless programming.
The mission installed fencing and plywood to block off certain areas so people using the shelter cannot access them, Pasma said.
"We always knew that the space is not optimally designed as a shelter," he said. "But we did do as much as we felt like we could at the time to ensure that it was safe."
Man got through fenced-off area
The Bear Clan Patrol Beaver Hills House Edmonton, an Indigenous organization that patrols communities to ensure safety and helps vulnerable people, was handing out food and coffee during a patrol Friday morning. One of the people there, clearly distraught, approached Bear Clan leader Judith Gale with a problem.
The man told her that he had been staying at the Spectrum shelter for a few weeks and each time he stayed, he noticed a foul smell, she said.
"He decided to investigate," Gale said. "He looked around in the Spectrum and he looked into the mechanical utility room, and that's where he discovered the corpse."
Hope Mission is unsure of exactly how long the body was there, but "it did look like they were there for some time," Pasma said.
According to Gale, the police and coroner were called in and found the body had been there for three weeks.
The small room in which the man's body was found was in a fenced off section of the facility that had plywood blocking the entrance, Reid said.
The area was secure, but "at some point in time" it became unsecure and that's how the deceased man — and the person who found him — accessed the space, Pasma said.
The mission is investigating how and when the barrier became unsecure, he added.
"I am just very upset about the whole thing, because this is a tax-paid agency... And yet they were not able to ensure our brothers' and sisters' safety in this facility," Gale said.
According to annual reports, government funding made up 24 per cent to roughly 36 per cent of Hope Mission's revenue from fiscal 2011 to 2019 — the most recent year available.
CBC News has contacted the provincial government for comment but it did not immediately respond.
The man who found the deceased told Gale that he won't return to the Spectrum shelter, she said.
Gale is upset that news about the body being found wasn't made public sooner.
"They should have done a body count," she said. "[Counting the] bodies that come into this institution and then make sure that the same [number of] bodies are leaving as well."
This is the only time, to Pasma's knowledge, that someone was found to have broken through a barrier. Though it is possible members of Explore Edmonton security, who do rounds of the facility, may have found somebody at some point, he said.
Hope Mission is working with Explore Edmonton security and city facility maintenance staff to pinpoint areas of the Spectrum building that can be further secured, Pasma said. That work will continue through next week.