There has been some confusion lately about the Homeless Coalition and its relationship with the Mat Program.
The Leader asked Barb Courtorielle, Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre executive director, who runs the Mat Program.
“I do,” she said.
“The Homeless Coalition is basically to help us (the Mat Program) with trying to find a location,” says Courtorielle. Also, it is for “support, advice, and to work together.”
Another Homeless Coalition member, RCMP Sgt. Don Racette, said the same thing, and adds, “from the police perspective, the Mat Program assists us,” as the RCMP can only put someone in cells over night if they’ve committed a crime or are too intoxicated to take care of themselves.
“The Friendship Centre always looked after the vulnerable,” says Courtorielle. This includes the homeless, who have showered and eaten at the Friendship Centre for years. In 2014, the previous executive director got the first grant to start housing the homeless in the winter. For a few years, community donations kept the Mat Program open. In 2019, Courtorielle received a five-year grant, which works out to about $57,000. This covers security, utilities, and food. The Friendship Centre pays for blankets, laundering these each day, cleaning supplies, toilet paper and paper towel, and most of the food.
However, she says, the Friendship Centre doesn’t have space in its building to run the Mat Program, as it is dedicated to other programs.
“We always need volunteers,” says Courtorielle. Volunteer opportunities include: helping with the Mat Program from 9 to 10 p.m. or 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. During the day, there is a need for people to be at the Friendship Centre to serve coffee and chat with the homeless. Also, the homeless shower at the Friendship Centre, so someone needs to make up the bags of towels, soap, etc., and clean the showers.
The Friendship Centre feeds the homeless breakfast and supper. It cannot accept donated prepared food, but anyone with a food safety course can volunteer to cook a meal in the Friendship Centre’s kitchen. This does not have to be at meal times, as Mat Program staff and volunteers can warm up and serve the food.