Mat Program looking into camp trailers for next fall

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Finding a new home for the Mat Program was the first item on the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition’s February 27th agenda. It provides a warm place to sleep in Slave Lake from November to April. The program cannot return to its current location next fall. If it doesn’t run for one-year or only runs during cold spells, it will lose the remaining four of its five-year funding.

On top of her full-time job, Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre Executive-Director Barb Courtorielle runs the program.

There’s been some confusion about a Global News article a few weeks ago, said Courtorielle. Some people think the Mat Program is rich, but the money only covers five years of utilities, salary for one security guard per night, and some paper products. There is no money for rent or a coordinator.

For fall 2020, the committee decided to look into setting up camp trailers in Slave Lake.

Courtorielle suggested the idea because of the plethora of trailers at auctions near Edmonton and Grande Prairie. The hope is someone will donate trailers.

Garry Roth, Town of Slave Lake Director of Community Services, agreed to look into zoning and empty lots in Slave Lake.

Ideally, this land will be in central Slave Lake and not close to where the methamphetamine users hangout.

The Mat Program homeless and drug users are different groups, said RCMP Staff Sgt. John Spaans.

“We don’t want the two groups to hang out,” said Johann van der Nest, Slave Lake Family Care Clinic Manager.

Someone mentioned the idea of church basements or empty businesses. Concerns were brought up about liabilities, costs, and insurance.

Since 2014, when the program started, the homeless haven’t caused any damage to either location, said Courtorielle.

Next November, the program cannot be at the Friendship Centre.

The reasons for the move are complex.

Last October, the Mat Program’s permit was denied for its previous location. An appeal of the permit granted permission to use the former location, but with requirements which were too expensive to consider.

Community members and businesses rallied to renovate the youth centre in the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre.

As noted at the last coalition meeting, one issue is an individual, who was stone cold sober couldn’t make it up the stairs to the second floor.

When the Mat Program closes in April, Courtorielle has orders to return the space to a youth centre.

There are 21 Friendship Centres in Alberta. Slave Lake is one of the only ones without a youth centre. It used to have one. Several years ago, it was closed for renovations, which weren’t finished. The renovations in October and November made it up to code.

What happens if we only have a shelter that’s open in the extreme cold? asked RCMP staff Sergeant John Spaans.

We will lose the funding, said Courtorielle.

In January, there were 112 guests at the Mat Program. There were only two incidents, resulting in one call to EMS and the other to the RCMP to deal with an out-of-town guest.

“It’s been good,” said Courtorielle. By this time last year, there had been about 30 calls to the RCMP.

The numbers reported at the January meeting were no calls to the police in November, and five in December. Making the season to date calls seven.

Overall the numbers are down, said Courtorielle. Last year, three homeless people died. Two of these people were regulars. Their spouses haven’t come back.

The RCMP and the Mat Program work closely to insure that the Mat Program guests don’t bother the neighbours.

In February, there were 37 people in the RCMP drunk tank, said St. Sgt. Spaans. Of these, 22 came once, and 14 multiple times. One individual was in the drunk tank for seven days in a row. He’d left cells that morning and was back five hours later.

“Drug use is up,” said Van der Nest, “and sexually transmitted diseases due to drug use.” Many of these drug users are young.

Next meeting
Homeless coalition meetings are open to the public. The next meeting is April 30. The one after that is June 25.

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