Town to rent skid shack for mat program

Updated Sept. 20 – to fix two typos. One: the use requires approval by the Municipal Planning Commission, but the zoning is correct. No zoning change is required. Two: the skid shack’s proposed location is the southeast portion of the fire hall lot, which is in northwest Slave Lake.

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

The Town of Slave Lake council has stepped up to help the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition secure a location to house people this winter.

At the September 13, 2022 council meeting, council passed a motion to rent a temporary structure (skid shack) to be put on town land near the fire station.

“We need an emergency space to keep people alive over the winter,” said Mayor Tyler Warman, introducing the topic. Over the past 15 or so years, community groups in Slave Lake have run a temporary mat program for people to sleep out of the cold. For most of this time, the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre did this. Last year, the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition took over. Finding a location is a recurring problem.

This year, the Town of Slave Lake council has decided to take a more active involvement, continued mayor Warman. While this is a provincial responsibility, the government of Alberta provides “very little support,” he added.

“We have a responsibility to look after people,” said mayor Warman. However, he added, “anything we are going to do needs to be temporary.”

The mat program will run for six months from October to April.

The report presented by Kush Patel, Project Manager, said “The town is looking to acquire a temporary structure such as a trailer that has the capability to be heated during the winter, provides an open space for individuals to sleep on floor mats, and ideally either has a self-contained washroom or potentially a second trailer that would provide washroom facilities.”

Over the year, the Town of Slave Lake and the Homeless Coalition looked at various areas. One was a vacant lot at the end of the airport. Two problems were no hook ups for utilities and no sidewalks for people to walk there.

Another possible option was where the old day care used to be by the MRC. This was also ruled out.
The decision was to put it at in the southeast portion of the fire hall site in northwest Slave Lake, because of easier access by foot.
Mayor Warman described this as, “the only suitable option.”

This also requires utilities to be added, however, ATCO has agreed to set these up for free, which is an in-kind donation to the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition of around $50,000.

The development of this site for a temporary homeless shelter is not completely assured, as permission from the Municipal Planning Commission is required.

At the council meeting, helping out wasn’t in question. Instead, the Town of Slave Lake Council discussed the four options of whether to rent (three different options) or buy.

The first option was to rent the structure from a local oilfield company for six months at a monthly rate. The other three had to do with a larger structure from ATCO, the options were to buy it, rent for one year, or for two years.

The Town of Slave Lake received bids from four or five companies, says Patel in a followup interview. The lowest was for $75 a day, which works out to around $2,250 a month.

Councillor Shawn Gramlich works for Total Oilfield Rentals, which was one of the oilfield companies which bid. He left the room and wasn’t involved in the discussion or decision.

Councillor Steve Adams started the discussion, with the question “do we want to rent or buy?” He followed this up by asking the two council members who represent the Town of Slave Lake on the Homeless Coalition if the smaller oilfield buildings would be big enough. It is 12 feet by 60 feet, or roughly 720 square feet. The ATCO proposals were larger 24 by 60 feet.

Councillor Brice Ferguson answered that the Coalition would make it work.

“We have no option,” he said. Without the location and skid shack supplied by the town, he was 99 per cent sure, there would not be a homeless shelter in Slave Lake this winter.

Last year each night, there were eight to 12 people in the shelter, he added. On busy nights, it was up to 19.

Councillor Adams’ next question was to administration. If the town bought the skid shack, could it get financing?

Financing would be an option, said CAO Jeff Simpson.

Councillor Francesca Ward was in favour of option 1 – oilfield rental.

The Homeless Coalition is looking at other options in the future, she said. Possibly housing pods. It just hired an executive director, who plans to look at funding options. It is possible, if the town buys a skid shack, that it could make the coalition ineligible for provincial or federal funding next year.

This is basically what the debate boiled down to. Does it make more sense to buy (a physical asset) or rent for one season from an oilfield company (for less money up front and avoid any future impediments to grant funding for the Coalition).

Councillor Kimberly Hughes agreed with councillor Ward. As did, both councillors on the Coalition – Ferguson and Julie Brandle.

The skid shack wouldn’t be given to the Coalition, responded councillor Adams. It shouldn’t interfere with the grants. Also, this is not going to be just a one year commitment by the town. Realistically, the Coalition isn’t going to find a permanent solution next year, or possibly even in the next five years, he added.

“I’m torn,” said mayor Warman. He walked into the meeting wanting to buy, so the money would be going toward something tangible. However, the two people who know the most about the decision, the town’s representatives on the Homeless Coalition, liked option 1, so he changed his mind. He agreed with Adams that the purchase by the town shouldn’t exclude the coalition from grants, but it was a possibility.

Five council members voted in favour of option 1, renting for six months from a local oilfield company. Councillor Adams was opposed. Councillor Gramlich abstained, by having left the room before the discussion started.

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