Local woman taking ‘engagement’ on homeless shelter issue to another level

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

If the Town of Slave Lake wanted public engagement on the question of a permanent site for the homeless shelter, they got what they asked for in Lynn Bowes. She launched a petition against the year-round shelter proposal and followed that up with an online discussion forum, which has generated quite a bit of talk on the subject.

Bowes, a 27-year resident of the area, has made it a personal project, to learn as much as she can about homelessness, and to share that with whoever is interested. There are a lot of questions surrounding the issue, and she hopes to get some answers.

But Bowes is not, she says, an opponent of a shelter, in spite of the petition, although initially she was.

“Something is needed in the cold months,” she agrees. “But it would be nice to have a better plan.”

One thing Bowes says she’d like to see is a proper study of the homeless in Slave Lake. How many there are, for one thing; where they are from and what particular challenges they are facing.

“If we don’t know, how can we help them?” she asks.

As for the proposed locations for the permanent shelter, right off the bat Bowes says she doesn’t think the ones on 6th Ave. SE or 3rd Ave. NE should even be in consideration. Likely a lot of people agree. The results of the town’s survey will probably bear that out, but we still have to wait a while.

Another question: what does ‘permanent’ really mean?

Bowes says she’s been asking that, and learned that a facility with trailers is all that’s proposed (much the same as the temporary one now in use). And that as such, it could be moved if the town sees fit.

One worry about a permanent site Bowes has is whether it would turn into what she calls “a hub” for homeless people. This has been expressed elsewhere as well, by other people. The idea that a permanent shelter might attract people from other places.

Though Bowes’ role has evolved quite quickly from opposition to the shelter to gathering and sharing information.

She hopes it might help people get a better idea of the various aspects and angles of the problem, the proposed solution and lead to productive engagement.

There are related issues Bowes is also thinking and asking about – affordable housing and health care. Each of those has a whole host of complications – some of which she discussed with MLA Scott Sinclair after the March 5 town council meeting, which they had both attended.

Bowes says this is the first time she’s ever entered the public sphere, in any capacity. She was surprised (maybe more than surprised) to receive what she calls “harassment” online about it, but decided she’s going to keep at it anyway.

Not necessarily with the petition. That seems to have receded into the background. But researching, sharing information and facilitating discussion – that’s going to continue, she says. She also plans on attending more town council meetings. She’s even contemplating the idea of running for council when the chance comes up again.

Lynn Bowes

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