Homeless shelter on 3rd Ave. NE: yes or no?

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Next Tuesday, Nov. 3 it might get a bit crowded in town council chambers. That could be a problem, given the town’s insistence that people stay two metres apart. But there are certainly people interested in having their say about the proposed new location for a homeless shelter in town.

Called the ‘Mat Program’ (because people sleep on mats on the floor), it has operated the past five years or so in two locations in town. Opposition from neighbours had a lot to do with it losing its original spot in the basement of a church in the southeast part of town. Last year – as a stop-gap measure – it was housed at the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre. This winter, the owner of the former Parent Link Centre (Alberta Social Housing Corporation) has offered that building. The new use requires permission from the town, and that takes a bylaw change. The standard procedure is to hold a public hearing on such bylaw changes, and that’s what’s happening on Nov. 3, at 7 p.m. Depending on what they hear, councillors may vote for or against the bylaw.

If the vote is ‘no,’ the Mat Program would be in trouble.

More to the point, the people sleeping rough would be in trouble.

Supporters of the Mat Program see it as a basic necessity that a community should provide for its least fortunate citizens. They also see it as a first step in a broader solution to homelessness, that would involve permanent housing and various other services aimed at helping people with addiction, mental health and maybe other issues. This of course requires funding that is uncertain, to say the least.

All of this has been reported, discussed and debated at length. What’s new is that two petitions have been making the rounds in recent weeks. One is in opposition to locating the Mat Program at the proposed site. It appeared online, under the headline: ‘Prevent the MAT Program from moving into 213 3rd AVE NE.’ It cites the building’s proximity to homes, schools and downtown as reasons (among others) the shelter shouldn’t be there. If the former location on 7th St SE was inappropriate, it continues, so is this one.

The other petition is in favour of the proposed new location and is available at the Friendship Centre. Town council will probably be hearing from both sides at the Nov. 3 hearing. Or if not, they’ll at least have the results of the petitions to consider.

Meanwhile….it’s getting pretty cold outside.

We were hoping to include a comment on the situation by Barb Courtorielle, the executive director at the Friendship Centre, but she did not return our calls by press time. However, she has been saying things on social media, including the following, apparently in response to other comments on the situation.

“Do you really believe this person wants to live in a tent at -8, with no means to stay warm or any human compassion? If you don’t know what has happened to a person struggling, who gave you the right to be judge and jury to condemn another person?”

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