Council closes homeless shelter without warning

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

With less than 12 hours notice last week, the Town of Slave Lake shut down the Slave Lake Homeless Shelter.

Operation of the shelter was not on the Town of Slave Lake council’s agenda for the May 21 meeting. Nor was it added to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting.

But a few minutes before 9 p.m. two hours into the meeting, Deputy Mayor Gramlich said, “I’m going to go a bit off script” and started a motion.

Council had just passed a motion for a ‘development permit – Town of Slave Lake Homeless Shelter,’ which had nothing to do with the operations of the shelter.

Councillor Steve Adams started to object, but Gramlich persisted.

“I think it pertains to this,” he said.

Gramlich’s new motion was to “suspend homeless shelter operation as of 8 a.m. May 22, 2024 and remain closed until November 1, 2024 pending further review.”

Explaining his decision, Gramlich said the town has never offered this program in the summer months, and the last three weeks have shown it isn’t working, he argued.

Further elaborating, Gramlich listed four things he said are necessary to make the program a success. First, the town using the province’s money to run the shelter. Second, the RCMP to arrest criminals. Third, the federal government needs to change the bail rules. Finally, the province is “trending in the right direction,” but not ready to help with a mobile response unit or mental health and addictions supports.

Mayor Francesca Ward wasn’t at the meeting. The discussion ran from just before 9 p.m. to about 9:40 p.m. It was live-streamed on YouTube. At 10 p.m., Ward issued an official statement on social media. (See full statement on Page 10). This included the final three of Gramlich’s requirements for successful operation of the shelter.

Speaking of the first item, Gramlich said, “Inside those walls, we’re doing a fine job. Outside those walls are another story.”

No specifics on what sort of criminal activity around the shelter were offered.

Speaking of the second item, Gramlich said, “We heard tonight, we don’t have 24/7 (RCMP) coverage anymore.”

This isn’t exactly what the Slave Lake detachment commander said.

RCMP Staff Sergeant Casey Bruyns said, “We have members available to respond to calls 24/7, however there are occasional periods of members being on call during the week.”

There is a perception in town of an increase in crime, but this isn’t reflected in the crime statistics.

The crime numbers don’t support closing the shelter, said Councillor Adams. He opposed the closure.

Council believes many people are not reporting crimes to the police.

Asked about a campground close to the shelter, Staff Sgt. Bruyns told The Leader in an email, “I can say since April 1st, 2024, we have had two calls that were criminal in nature there and neither of them involved any homeless persons (they involved registered guests). We did have four suspicious persons calls there in the same time-frame, but it appears only one of those four perhaps involved a homeless person.”

The campground owners says they have made more calls than they can count.

In her statement, Mayor Ward says, “We have heard from members of our shelter advisory committee that many homeless clients do not feel comfortable accessing the shelter due to the criminal activity in the area.”

Deputy Mayor Gramlich and Councillor Kim Hughes had spent two days talking to people in the area about the crimes they’ve witnessed.

Councillor Ali Mouallem was also in favor of the closure.

Deputy Mayor Gramlich said he was going to make further motions about accessing other services.
“I want to be able to facilitate all of those services,” said Councillor Adams, making a motion for the shelter to be open only at night.

Councillor Adams’ motion to only be open at night was defeated three to one.

The motion to close for the spring and summer and reopening on November 1 pending review passed three to one, with Councillor Adams opposed.

A followup motion to give the shelter manager one week to connect clients with more services and transport them if needed, also passed with Councillor Adams opposed.

Mayor Ward, Councillor Brice Ferguson and Councillor Andrew Achoba weren’t at the meeting.

Share this post

Post Comment