November 26, 2020
With COVID-19 restrictions, the Homeless Coalition meeting was on Zoom. Twelve people attended, including Town of Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman, councillor Brice Ferguson, town staff, people from Alberta Health Services, and RCMP Sergeant Don Racette. Barb Courtorielle, Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre executive director, chaired the meeting.
Mat Program/Friendship Centre
Courtorielle runs the Mat Program – an overnight shelter in the winter. This is in addition to her job as executive director of the Friendship Centre.
Intoxicated people can stay at the Mat Program, she says, but only if security can control them. At the moment, some are “walking a fine line” and one is banned. Most of people who use the Mat Program are addicted to alcohol. The drug users tend to be couch surfing and the two groups don’t mix.
Wide service gap
Patricia Chemago with AHS Addictions said that there is wide service gap.
Courtorielle confirmed that the Mat Program is entry level – just to keep people from freezing to death. It doesn’t offer addiction or other support.
Slave Lake does not have detox, said Chemago. The closest are in High Prairie and Swan Hills. Also, the majority of the homeless wouldn’t do well in the types of detox that do exist. The biggest challenges are wait times, assessments, appropriateness for referral, and transportation.
New location – temp and permanent
At the moment, the Mat Program is in the Friendship Centre’s main hall. The most immediate need is for somewhere for the Mat Program to go December 15 to 25. However, the long-term goal is to find a new permanent location.
“I need my hall for Santas Anonymous,” said Courtorielle. The Friendship Centre has organized Santas Anonymous for 30 years, and won’t stop now.
“We desperately need volunteers,” she adds. The homeless spend much of the day, as well as the night at the Friendship Centre. The funding covers a security guard at night, but no daytime staff.
“We always look after the vulnerable, but we don’t get funding for it,” said Courtorielle. The Friendship Centre is one of 21 in Alberta. Others also have homeless shelters, but they are not in the same building as the Friendship Centre. Finding a permanent location outside of the Friendship Centre is Courtorielle’s goal.
One of the goals with a permanent location is to apply for funding to start filling in the treatment gap through transitional housing. The was public backlash about the previous suggested location.
Mayor Warman suggested that the Mat Program write up information for the Slave Lake residents and property owners on the specifications of a permanent location. Also, a description of what transitional housing is.
“They have to know what they are buying,” he said, referring to neighbours of potential locations, who need to be consulted on any location.
Jule Asterisk agreed to write up the sheets as part of some contract work for the Friendship Centre.
Mayor Warman agreed to request that Town of Slave Lake staff do a mass call out when these are done to find a suitable location.
Garry Roth, Town of Slave Lake director of community services, reported for town bylaw enforcement.
There have been a few calls here and there, he said. These have been our usual people passed out in the wrong place.
“We haven’t had vagrancy,” said Sgt. Racette. However, there were complaints of loitering especially in bank vestibules.
“At this point, we will just refrain from going to the banks,” he added. “If they are in the bank, they are safe and warm. Some have mobility issues. We are not a transportation agency.” The RCMP are not supposed to transport people they have not arrested. COVID further complicates the matter, by requiring extensive cleaning after transportation and the increased risk of transmission.
People hanging out in the vestibules are committing a bylaw infraction, he added, not breaking the law. The only thing the RCMP can do is tell them to move on. If they do, and the person freezes to death they could be liable. The banks and institutions will have to step up.
Courtorielle will look for some funding to be able to transport the homeless to the Mat Program, which is open from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. At the moment, transportation is not part of the grant.
Keith Carlson, Slave Lake hospital administrator, reported. The focus was on the new COVID-19 restrictions and how they impact the hospital.
“We’re working as best we can,” said Carlson. The hospital does not do COVID tests. The hospital has very strict screening. This may cause delays. People with symptoms should stay home, unless they need medical help.