Stacey Carmichael and her partner were looking to move to a place closer to nature. She found a job as the executive director of the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition Society, so they chose Slave Lake.
“It was just kind of serendipity that we ended up here,” she says.
Carmichael’s partner is a red seal journeyman pipe fitter, so shouldn’t have a problem finding work. At the moment, he and the dogs are still in Red Deer, but will move up here once they find a home.
“Housing and affordable housing in Slave Lake is tricky,” says Carmichael. Moving herself, she will gain some hands-on experience of this in the coming months.
She started work with the Homeless Coalition on April 3.
“I have over 30 years experience working with vulnerable populations,” she says.
For example, Carmichael helped develop a plan to end homelessness. She has worked with the homeless and in addictions and mental health support services. Most of her work has been in Red Deer. Of this, 20 years was in management. She also has experience in community planning and engagement.
Carmichael was born in Saskatchewan, but has lived in Red Deer since she was very young.
“I have a lot to learn about rural and remote homelessness and the community,” she says.
The Homeless Coalition runs the only homeless shelter in Slave Lake. It is called a temporary mat program and is only open in the winter months. It provides a safe place to sleep out of the cold, plus supper and breakfast for people in Slave Lake who would otherwise be sleeping in the bush, doorways, or couch-surfing.
In her new role, Carmichael has been talking with the people using the shelter. Slave Lake is their home, she says, so she tries not to call them homeless, instead she prefers the term ‘house-less.’
The mat program closes on April 30.
Some of the people who used the shelter this winter are already in the process of moving back into ‘tent cities’ in the bush on the edges of Slave Lake.
“The people who use the services are concerned,” says Carmichael. “That’s their only option.”
Carmichael has also met community members who are on two sides of the ‘house-less’ issue. Some are concerned about people living in tents in the bush. Others are concerned that people have to live in tents in the bush.
“How do we bring these two sides together?” Carmichael wonders.
The Homeless Coalition is working on being “more proactive instead of reactive.”
Since 2014, the Homeless Coalition has run the mat program in three different locations. The current one is skid-shacks in northwest Slave Lake between the Gathering Place and the Slave Lake fire hall. After April 30, these will be removed and the site cleaned up.
Carmichael and the board plan to engage with the local community on how this site went.
The 2022-23 winter is only the second in recent years that the Homeless Coalition has had a paid executive director.
For a few years starting in 2014, the Homeless Coalition had a paid staff member. After that for many years, the mat program was run by the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre and the Homeless Coalition on a purely volunteer basis. Then in 2021, the Friendship Centre stepped back and the Homeless Coalition took over. It is now a registered society and has a dedicated volunteer board.
The board is “very committed,” says Carmichael. “They’ve done a lot of work.”
This spring marks the first time that the executive director position will continue past the closing of the mat program.
Also new is a Homeless Coalition office in the SLD Building near the post office in Slave Lake.
Once community engagement about this winter is done, Carmichael will start planning for the fall.
Carmichael has a lot of questions: “how can we as a community make it work well? How can we build these wrap-around services?”
With these questions and other in mind, Carmichael and the Homeless Coalition board are moving forward to try to provide stable supports for the ‘house-less’ in the community.