To find a new location for the Mat Program and get transitional housing off the ground, the Town of Slave Lake, Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre, and two funding agencies plan to set up a working group.
The Mat Program provides a place to sleep out of the cold for people who are homeless in the winter months. During cold snaps, it is often open 24 hours a day. Barb Courtorielle runs the Mat Program as one of the services at the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre.
The Friendship Centre had funding for renovations and furnishing a permanent location for the Mat Program and seed funding for transitional housing – also called Housing First.
“We still have money we can use,” said Courtorielle, at the January 28 Homeless Coalition meeting, “but it’s from a different program, so that’s why we want to get moving on this.”
Courtorielle figures that if there was transitional housing, five of the people currently using the Mat Program could learn the skills and get the support they need to maintain housing.
One young man is homeless because his mother died. Each morning, he goes out looking for work.
“I’ve had no issues with him, at all,” said Courtorielle. He doesn’t have much experience, but the Friendship Centre has set up a little employment centre so he and the others can work on their resumes.
There’s a program through Children and Family Services for people 19 to 21, said Patricia Chemago, from AHS Mental Health and Addictions. Also, Alberta Works does job readiness and helps with job start-up costs, like buying steel toed boots for a construction job.
Another young person is on AISH, with the mental capacity of a 13-year-old.
“She doesn’t have any addictions, yet,” said Courtorielle.
For the last two years, the Mat Program has been at the Friendship Centre as a stop-gap measure. At the moment, it takes up half of the main hall at the centre.
“Next year, I cannot have them here,” said Courtorielle. “It’s too hard on me and too hard on the staff.”
Over the month of November, the Mat Program was used by men 73 times and women 25 times. In December, men used it 89 times and women 42 times. This is a total of 229 uses during those two months.
The busiest night at the Mat Program was 14 people.
In November, 19 individuals slept at the Mat Program, on one or more nights. In December, nine new people also used the program. In total 28, individuals have used this program this year.
“Out of all the 28, only two are brand new to the Mat Program,” said Courtorielle. “And they’ve (gone) back home.”
“They’re pretty much the regulars,” Courtorielle added. “So the numbers are kind of lower than they were last year, because there are people we haven’t seen for a while.” One died before Christmas in High Prairie. The police found him outside.
Courtorielle was the only person who reported at the meeting, but Town of Slave Lake councillor Brice Ferguson asked Chemago what supports were in Slave Lake.
“We don’t respond to crisis per se,” said Chemago. “One of the regular homeless comes when he’s in crisis and wants to be in rehab that afternoon,” but that is not how the system works. Even if it did, there isn’t transportation or a detox in Slave Lake. If people can commit to coming to AHS Mental Health and Addictions on a regular basis, there’s support, but that doesn’t tend to be the case with the homeless.
Town of Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman and Loon River First Nations Chief Ivan Sawan and a few others were also at the meeting.
Meetings are open to the public.
The next Homeless Coalition meeting is February 25 at 1 p.m. on Zoom. To attend, email [email protected]