The town hired a man with experience in homeless shelter management to run the new Slave Lake homeless shelter.
Ayo Olowofela worked at a homeless shelter in Edmonton called Hope Mission for over six years. It has seven or eight individual buildings running in Edmonton. Olosofela worked as a night manager with a staff of 35 in the summer and 47 in the winter managing up to four buildings.
“The highest population of users are coming in in the night,” he says. “It’s a big task to run, but I’m very successful.”
On a busy night, he was overseeing 900 to 950 clients.
The Slave Lake shelter is on a much smaller scale.
From November 14, 2022 to April 30, 2023, the Slave Lake shelter had an average of 11.6 guests per night, says a Leader article from May 31, 2023. These were 47 unique individuals, who used the shelter 1,954 times over the 168 nights. They were aged between 21 and 61. Of these, 33 were men and 14 women.
Olowofela’s first degree is in guidance and counselling. In 2015, he moved to Canada. He did an education leadership masters in Newfoundland focused on children and youth.
In September 2023, Olowofela’s wife got a job in Slave Lake as a registered nurse. As they have two young children, Olowofela took a two-month leave of absence from Hope Mission so the whole family could move to Slave Lake. In September, the homeless shelter manager job opened in Slave Lake. Olowofela got the job.
“I’m going into it with all my might to make it work,” he says.
Slave Lake has had some form of temporary shelter for the homeless since 2014. At first this was run by the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre.
In 2021, the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition Society was formed to continue a temporary shelter and to start a permanent shelter with wrap-around support services. These nonprofits received a little bit of provincial funding and fundraised the rest.
This fall, the Government of Alberta approached the Town of Slave Lake to apply for funding for a municipally run shelter. The town did and was successful.
“The shelter we’re starting from ground zero,” says Olowofela.
For this winter, the shelter is two combined skid-shacks on fire hall property between the Gathering Place and the Slave Lake Fire Hall in the northwest. This opened the night of Monday, November 6.
This is a similar set up to last year, but with one building instead of a few. At the moment, this building has a large room, two bathrooms (without showers), laundry, and a kitchenette.
Asked about the lack of showers, Town of Slave Lake CAO Jeff Simpson says, “Given the very short period of time we had and budget that was already approved, we didn’t have the opportunity to include a shower in the current trailer setup. We are however planning to add one in the near future. It wasn’t a feasible option at the time and would have pushed back the delivery of the trailers to our site. These trailers are custom setups and designed to order.”
The town is looking for ways to add showers, he adds. “For the time being, protecting life and limb and having something in place as soon as possible was the primary goal.”
The temporary shelter will have two staff per each shift – a homeless shelter staff member hired by the town and security, which is contracted out. It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and provides three meals a day.
Olowofela will also be on site often. He is also interested in working with the community to help change their perspective of the homeless.
“I call them community members or guests,” he says. “They’re also a human being. This is just a situation that has happened to them. This isn’t permanent … Just saying hello how are you today, goes a long way in their lives.”
“I like collaboration,” he adds. Once things get settled, he’s looking to work with service providers in the community.
In January, community engagement will begin on a permanent location. Town council recently rezoned four parcels of town owned land into council direct control, which may be potential sites for a permanent shelter.