‘Huge win for the town’ says Mayor Ward
After years of lobbying the province for help with the homeless situation, the Town of Slave Lake last week received some welcome news.
“Thanks to advocacy from MLA Scott Sinclair,” says Mayor Frankie Ward, “we have received Government of Alberta funding for a municipally-run homeless shelter.”
Municipally-run means the town will be in charge of hiring staff, as well as finding a location and everything else that goes along with it.
That’s a shift, because until very recently the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition was the group responsible for setting up and staffing the shelter, as well as scrambling for grants each year. Where the announcement leaves that organization isn’t clear, and Ward says she doesn’t know herself. But it appears the Coalition is now on the sidelines, with the town taking over the principal role.
“The province approached the town,” Ward says. “We are required to administer the program.”
The role of the Homeless Coalition aside, the funding has to be seen as quite a breakthrough. Ward says it is in fact the first time the province has stepped up to fund a homeless shelter in a community of this size. Previously she says, the government’s ‘rural model’ for a government-supported shelter was Lethbridge!
“We know homelessness in Slave Lake is an increasingly complex issue,” says MLA Sinclair, “and we are working closely with the town council to find innovative solutions to support those impacted by, or at risk of homelessness.”
With the funding question settled for the time being, the town’s plan is to forge ahead with the process of establishing a permanent facility. That will take quite some time, with a comprehensive community consultation, Ward says, with several sites under consideration. All of that can’t be done in time for this winter shelter season, so another temporary shelter will have to be set up, pronto. That process was already in the works, initiated by the Homeless Coalition. The fire hall site has been identified as the likely location, and time is short.
As for the amount of the funding, Ward said she’d get back to us on it.
But whatever the details, it is big news for Slave Lake.
“It’s a huge win for the town,” Ward says.
Ward says the funding is initially for a year, with another year more or less assured. After that, “if all goes successfully, the intention is for the funding to be renewable each year.”
Answers to questions about the role of the Homeless Coalition in the new scenario will have to wait. Ward says she imagines there will be a part to play for the Homeless Coalition, but adds its only one of several agencies with an interest in the homeless situation in Slave Lake.
Homeless Coalition co-chair Andrew Achoba says the group has lots to offer, and hopes it can help, “but for now, no role.” Coalition board member and former co-chair Danielle Larivee says the group has offered to help the town in any way they can.
“We’re here and willing to be at the table,” she says. “We’ve got a lot of expertise.”
Reached by phone on Sept. 21, Sinclair said the support for a homeless shelter in Slave Lake was “one of the post-election things” he was working on with the town, and it gained quite a bit of traction when Minister Jason Nixon visited town on July 26. More such minister visits are coming up this fall, he added.