Peace River’s homeless now have a place to stay

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

Homeless and vulnerable people in Peace River finally have a warm place to stay overnight.

A new six-member committee bringing together community organizations including the women’s shelter, the Sagitawa Friendship Centre, Alberta Health Services, the RCMP and others, has started an “Out of the Cold” [OOTC] shelter program.

The committee presented to Peace River town council about the new shelter program on Jan. 6.

Committee member and homeless advocate Marc Boychuk says the meeting with the Town went well.

“I believe we are in a unique situation how our community is coming together so amazingly,” Boychuk says.

The Catholic Conference Centre is the first location for the new shelter. The shelter officially opened Jan. 12, after a volunteer training on Jan. 11.

OOTC shelters are typically only available throughout the coldest months of the winter. They are a crucial service to prevent cold-related injury and deaths when homeless populations may otherwise be sleeping outside.

Peace River had some of the highest numbers of homeless residents sleeping outside in squares, sidewalks, parks and makeshift shelters when compared to other Alberta communities in a province-wide survey in 2018, showing the need for emergency accommo- dations.

The province has recently entered a cold snap with extreme cold warnings in many communities.

Besides making the difference between life and death, emergency shelter can also be a first point of contact for a broader system of supports. Homeless people are often members of vulnerable populations or may have issues such as mental health problems, and supports can be key to more stable living conditions in time.

“If it goes well we can help a lot of people,” Boychuk says. “Other communities are reaching out to us now for advice.”

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