Missionaries patrolling Edmonton’s inner-city streets are extending their reach, as the homeless population continues to overflow into suburban areas.

Edmonton’s largest organization to aid the homeless, Hope Mission, dispatches missionary vans out into the city’s roughest areas, passing out food, hot drinks, blankets, clothing, and a helping hand to those who need a place to sleep.

“We have had increased requests, and people out there are in much more desperate need than they have been,” said spokesman Peter Gerber.

Since temperatures took a nose-dive in the weeks before Christmas, van drivers are continually tipped off about more campsites set up in unlikely areas, like South Edmonton Common.

Gerber attributes the nomadic behaviour to competition between desperate panhandlers in higher density areas, which serve as a setting for increased levels of violence. “If you go downtown and are competing with 20 people, you could instead go down to South Common where there’s hardly anyone,” he said.

While Edmonton’s homeless have been known to set up camp in commercial or residential areas in the past, the trend has increased in the last few years, with the rise in population and lack of affordable housing, Gerber said.

Officials expect the retired ambulances will be perpetually rolling, as temperatures hold steady. The vans served over 1,500 homeless Edmontonians in December.

“You can ask anyone out on the street, the Hope Mission ministry van is something that is known to people,” Gerber said.

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