The death of a homeless man in Slave Lake recently is sad and sadly inevitable. Who takes care of people who can’t take care of themselves?
A group is meeting regularly to try to answer that question. It’s called Slave Lake Homeless Coalition, and its main focus right now is figuring out how to set up an overnight shelter for the cold months.
That should be a fairly simple task, but it isn’t. Getting permission from the town, for one thing, is far from a sure thing. Not that the town doesn’t care, or isn’t involved. It is. Town representatives participate in the coalition. It’s in their and everybody’s interest to get this problem solved.
It’s almost a relief, somebody told us, that Dolphous Noskiye (the man who recently died) won’t have to survive another winter on the street. Some will have to, if the shelter challenge isn’t overcome in time. Time is very short for getting something like that organized.
A space, we hear, has been identified. That’s a start, but one was identified a year ago and due to the objections of the neighbours, town council voted against the necessary re-zoning. So it goes.
Not to set up a false dichotomy, but people quite often point to the animal shelter building in Slave Lake. ‘If we can do that for animals,’ goes the refrain, ‘why can’t we do as much for people?’
The animal shelter is the result of many years of hard work by a dedicated group of volunteers and their supporters. We should take nothing away from them, except maybe the assurance that if the community wants and needs something enough, it can darn well make it happen. It’s a question of rolling up the sleeves and getting down to it.
Since this spring, the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition has been without a support organization and a location. There are ongoing discussions with a support organization. Also, at the Sept. 3 meeting, someone new to the coalition came in with a proposed location.
Neither the support organization or the location is confirmed, so will not be disclosed.
There were 14 people at the Sept. 3 meeting. The majority of these were new to the coalition. The passing the day before of a well known person who had been homeless for many years was the spur for one of the newcomers.
The housing needs survey started on Aug. 25.
The Town of Slave Lake had a stack of printed surveys and posters.
“The stack is going down,” said Garry Roth, Town of Slave Lake director of community services. “That’s a good thing.”
The goal of the survey he added is to identify “who is homeless, but also who is at risk of being homeless.”
The survey is an important first step in getting federal and provincial funding and presenting information to town council and other groups, said Roth.
The Slave Lake and Area Mental Health Network invited people to do a few at their booth at the ‘All-In Slave Lake’ block party on August 27. The Native Friendship Centre has the survey at both the front desk and the food bank. The Slave Lake Family Care Clinic has it in the lobby. WJS Canada in Slave Lake signed up to facilitate the survey after the Interagency meeting at the end of August.
The RCMP and peace officers, and a group from the Homeless Coalition will be going out to various places where people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness hangout.
The survey is also on the Town of Slave Lake’s website and social media. The deadline to complete the survey is Sept. 24.
The remaining two years of temporary shelter funding may be available, should the Homeless Coalition find an organization to act as the bank for the group.
Also, the morning of the meeting a call for another funding opportunity went out. The deadline is Sept. 24.
The funding is for “a project that has to be completed by spring,” said Roth. In order to apply, the coalition would have to find a nonprofit, government or other entity to be on the application.
“We’re not a society or an organized group,” said Roth. “That’s part of our long-term goals.”
Until this spring, the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre was the nonprofit which applied for and administered funding to do with the Homeless Coalition. Since it stepped away, the Coalition has regrouped. The idea of becoming a society wasn’t raised until a few months ago.
A couple people present volunteered to approach a local society and work on a grant application.
Slave Lake Homeless Coalition members interviewed six people experiencing homelessness in the area. One of whom has now passed away. These stories will be in this and upcoming editions of the Lakeside Leader.
“A couple of things,” said Florence Gladue, who was at her first meeting. “Not all homeless are drunk. Not all homeless are Indigenous. Anyone can be homeless.”
“If you have one source of income, you are one step from being homeless,” said Winona Twin, also at her first meeting.
It is an election year, Gladue added. She would like to know from the town council candidates “How are they going to help the homeless?”
One incumbent Town Councillor, Brice Ferguson, was at the meeting. Also, candidate Ian Cameron was there.
Jo Stewart, another community member at her first meeting, suggested a sock drive and working on ways to welcome the homeless within businesses and public spaces during the day.
The next Slave Lake Homeless Coalition meeting is September 17 in the Town of Slave Lake council chambers.
Everyone is welcome.