Permanent location next priority
From December 23 to the end of March, the Temporary Mat Program will be in a commercial building on 6th Avenue in Slave Lake.
“It was actually suggested by one of our old security guards,” says Danielle Larivee, Slave Lake Homeless Coalition co-chair.
Jule Asterisk, coalition coordinator, was looking at all kinds of locations. Including, another one in the same building – 132 6 Ave. SE. The one that was chosen has two rooms, each with its own bathroom. This means men can sleep in one room and women in the other. There’s space for 15 people to sleep out of the cold.
For the first part of the winter, the Coalition was housing people in a Slave Lake hotel. For the first month, most of the rooms were donated by the hotel, but in December they had to pay full price.
Larivee describes the hotel as “beyond sub-optimal.”
Finding a location has various challenges. One of the biggest ones in the past was the six weeks between a municipal permit application and approval. However, the Coalition found an important clause in the Municipal Government Act.
“I know the right people to talk to to find it,” says Larivee, who is a former Minister of Municipal Affairs.
The Municipal Government Act allows municipalities to approve a use if none of the immediate neighbours have any issues.
“All of the businesses are incredibly supportive,” says Larivee.
The winter solstice was a whirlwind, says Asterisk.
On that day (December 21), she signed the lease, received support signatures from the landlord and closest neighbours, and applied for and received the permit from the town. The town also waived the application fee.
A band of volunteers including some of the people experiencing homelessness in Slave Lake worked like crazy. By December 23rd, everyone moved in and held a grand opening.
However, this location is not the end of the story. It is temporary.
The board’s next priority is to find a permanent location, says Larivee.
This needs to have showers, a kitchen, laundry facilities, and at least two large rooms and two bathrooms.
Ideally, this will be in place by the end of March 2022, says Asterisk. “We have a lot of stuff now,” she adds. This includes lockers, mats, and other items from the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre, which ran the Mat Program in the past. Also, donations from other organizations, businesses, and individuals in Slave Lake.
Over the last few years, there wasn’t any funding for administering the Mat Program. Now, there’s enough money for the Mat Program to be open 24/7.
“It’s so much better to have all day,” says Asterisk.
Not only is the Mat Program open all day, it is offering programming to help guests with more than just food and shelter.
The Sweetgrass Support team, which at the moment consists of Asterisk and one social worker, provides ‘braided service’ to people who use the Mat Program. This includes literacy, education, job search, cultural, psychological, and other support programs and services.
The Homeless Coalition is looking to hire another support worker, security, and cleaners. All of whom will have contact with people using the program.
Compassion is very important for all employees, says Asterisk. The plan is also to train them to approach their work with a trauma-informed lens.
The next public Homeless Coalition meeting is Friday, January 7 on Zoom. The meeting starts at 1:30 p.m. Email [email protected], for the link, to volunteer, or to find out more information.