Homeless Coalition moving forward with tight budget

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

If all goes well at the Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) meeting on October 3, the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition will have a place for people to sleep out of the cold. However, because of a tight budget there won’t be much more.

Slave Lake has had a Temporary Mat Program since about 2014, according to The Leader archives. However, there had been discussions about the need for a place for people without housing to sleep out of the cold since at least 2009.

This has not been an easy road.

Until spring of 2021, the Mat Program was run by the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre. At that time, it stepped back and the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition took over. The Friendship Centre still provides services for the homeless.

For example, during the 2021-22 winter people staying in the Mat Program showered at the Friendship Centre and Homeless Coalition volunteers cooked meals in the Friendship Centre’s kitchen.

One of the big stumbling blocks has been finding a location.

“I would just like to stress that the Homeless Coalition has been looking for a (permanent) location,” says Brice Ferguson, chair of the Homeless Coalition and Town of Slave Lake councillor. This didn’t pan out, but a temporary one has been found.

“The town is helping on the building itself,” says Ferguson. “The rental and utilities.”

On September 13, town council passed a motion to rent a skid shack from a local oilfield company for six months – Nov. 1, 2022 to April 30, 2022.

The town is also supplying the land – an unused portion of the fire hall complex in northwest Slave Lake. If approved by the MPC, this will be fenced off from the remaining compound and will have an entrance off of 6 Ave. NW west of the Gathering Place.

“Zoning already did fit,” says Ferguson. It is industrial, which includes a shelter as a discretionary use. All discretionary uses must be approved by the MPC. Having received the help from the town, the Homeless Coalition is applying to the MPC. It will be at the next meeting, which is Oct. 3 starting at 5 p.m.

The week of September 19, the Homeless Coalition started going to the neighbouring church and people living in the area to get their feedback on the proposed location.

The site does not have utility hookups, but ATCO has agreed to donate these.

According to Ferguson, if the Homeless Coalition receives approval, there are a few other moving parts which will need to fall in place to open by November 1. These are building a new access off 6 Ave. NW, building a fence, leveling off the pad, and hauling the trailer in.

The plan is to have a heated 12 by 60-foot trailer and likely port-a-potties.

“I don’t think there are going to be showers this year,” says Ferguson. The Coalition looked into it, but it doubled the cost.

“The Homeless Coalition is going to have to work closely with the Friendship Centre,” says Ferguson.

Also, the skid shack doesn’t have a kitchen.

Volunteers will “likely need a kitchen somewhere else to cook some of the meals,” says Ferguson.

The Coalition is working with a shoe-string budget, says Ferguson. At the current level, people will have to come in eat supper quickly, go to sleep, get up, and eat breakfast quickly and then be out on the street.

“We have funding this year for sure,” says Ferguson.

This includes $72,000 from the Rural Development Network.

“That’s really a drop in the bucket, when you consider the whole program,” says Ferguson. This has to cover security wages, food, cleaning supplies, etc.

The Coalition would like to have a permanent location and provide ‘wrap-around’ services, says Ferguson. The hope would be to help people move out of homelessness. However, for this year, the most it will be able to offer is a place to sleep out of the cold and breakfast and supper.

The goal is to keep people from freezing to death, says Ferguson. “We had someone pass away last year from the elements. A few days after it closed. That was in April.”

New Homeless Coalition executive director Jacki Freamo sent a letter to local businesses asking for help for this coming year.

It includes the following statistics from last year:

The Temporary Mat Program was open from October 30, 2021 to April 18, 2022.

During that time, there were a total of 1,546 stays, ranging from four to 15 participants per night and representing 106 different individual participants. Of these, 35 per cent were female, 65 per cent were male, and 84 per cent had Indigenous ancestry.