The Slave Lake Homeless Coalition started offering a safe place to sleep out of the cold on October 31. From October 31 to November 10, 13 individuals used the service. There is room for 15.
The first night four people used the shelter, says program coordinator Jule Asterisk. On average, eight or nine people had used the service, as of Nov. 10.
Based on previous years, the expectation is that the shelter will be used around 1,000 times, says Brice Ferguson, Homeless Coalition co-chair.
“There’s definitely a need,” he adds.
For the first month and a bit, the shelter is using five rooms at the Northern Star Hotel in Slave Lake. Four of the rooms are being donated by the hotel.
There have been other donations of money and in-kind services from local companies.
“That’s what enabled us to open,” says Asterisk. The coalition has been approved for a grant to fund many expenses but hasn’t received the money yet.
The hotel is a stop-gap measure until the coalition can get approval for a better location. This year, the hope is that this will be the old St. Peter’s Ecumenical Church in southeast Slave Lake. The church has agreed to the use for one year only. The coalition has started knocking on doors of the neighbouring houses and businesses.
“Most of the neighbours have been supportive,” says Asterisk. However, the first few times they went out many people weren’t at home.
“We need to hear people’s concerns,” she says. One of the concerns raised in the past was about the time when people left the temporary shelter. This has been changed from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. This is after the school rush hour. It also means that places are open in town, so that people experiencing homelessness have someplace to go when they leave the shelter.
The Homeless Coalition is also working toward offering more than just a safe place to sleep out of the cold.
On November 9, the Town of Slave Lake council approved a grant of $7,000 toward the Sweetgrass Support Program.
This is a new initiative for the work with the homeless in Slave Lake, says Asterisk. The goal is to build relationships and eventually branch out to provide ‘wrap-around’ services.
The first step has been offering rapid COVID testing and having discussions about COVID and health in general.
“It’s kind of hypnotizing to watch it,” says Asterisk about the rapid tests. Of the 11 people asked if they wanted a rapid COVID test, only one wasn’t interested. Also, the original idea was to offer one a week, but some wanted to do it more, so people can do up to two a week.
One goal of the program is to encourage self-awareness and personal growth, says Asterisk. Another is to talk about the big picture and where we are at in history. The hope is that this “leads to self-improvement instead of self-blame,” she adds.
Pembina Pipelines donated two computers and some money to be used for Sweetgrass participants to access free, online counselling sessions.
The next Slave Lake Homeless Coalition meeting is Friday, November 19 from 1:30 -3:00 p.m.