Part three of a series by members of the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition.
For the Lakeside Leader
Dolphus Noskiye was a person experiencing homelessness for a very long time. I first worked with him in the Adult Literacy Program for the Slave Lake Adult Education Committee between 2009 and 2011 at the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre. We worked on writing ‘The Idea’ with Dolphus and Elmer Bellehomme (also now deceased), a series of concepts towards a shelter that eventually became the Mat Program.
Dolphus was a Bigstone Band member from Demarais. He liked it there, but he says, “my family just want me out of there” because of his drinking and trouble with police.
Sometimes he hitchhiked to visit them, and he wanted to go for his brother’s memorial. His entire family went to residential school, and he didn’t like to think about it. He didn’t want to go back to that environment. Dolphus had extreme addictions, mental health, and for the last year or so physical health issues. He was hit by a car while panhandling in a Slave Lake parking lot, and was not able to care for his injury well while living on the street.
Last winter, Dolphus was kicked out of the Mat Program due to intolerable behaviour. Our Mat Program in Slave Lake depends on everyone who uses it to stay calm, and follow the rules.
If Dolphus were at the intake for Housing First in Edmonton, he would be considered in the highest category of needs. Housing First programs work with people experiencing homelessness with any degree of needs because, aside from being the compassionate thing to do, it is actually less expensive than continuing to let people suffer on the street. After following a ‘high needs’ individual for a year, Edmonton found that the amount of police, hospital, and other services that the individual took up was worth more than $1 million. Providing that person with a ‘caretaker’ and a home decreased this amount to $50,000, which proved to be 20 times less expensive.
When told that the Mat Program itself is now homeless, Dolphus became agitated.
He said, “Where are we supposed to sleep in winter? (This) makes this town look stupid, it’s an embarrassment. Look at High Prairie – they have everything, and we have nothing. It’s going to be really busy for the cops with no Mat Program. They gotta do something or it will blow up. What, this is (having no Mat Program) going to make a perfect Town? I don’t think so … there’s got to be something done for the winter.”
While staying under a tree, or anywhere really, Dolphus hoped to find a better place where there’s food, shelter, and a bit of work to keep his mind off things.
“That would really be something,” he said.
Dolphus passed away on September 2, 2021.