Support sought for plan to shelter homeless

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

A committee working on a way to house Peace River’s homeless population overnight in the winter is looking for community support.

“Nobody could do it on their own. It’s just too huge of a project for one group right now,” local homelessness advocate Marc Boychuk says.

Boychuk says a committee was put together in October to find a way to help the homeless people who are being displaced by a Town cleanup order of the temporary PurpleRung Foundation shelters. While those shelters were not being used, vulnerable and homeless people were still loitering and living near them in the same parking lot, leading to complaints from neighbours.

The PEACE Foundation has also been working on a solution to help the community, but while its new warming and community centre has received a development permit, that facility will not be able to house anyone overnight. It has yet to officially open.

The new six-member committee bringing together community organizations including the existing women’s shelter, the Sagitawa Friendship Centre, Alberta Health Services, the RCMP and others, is looking at an “Out of the Cold” [OOTC] type shelter program to address the lack of a local men’s shelter.

OOTC shelters are typically only available throughout the coldest months of the winter, and operate in several different forms in Canada.

Caroline Sorge, executive director of the Peace River Regional Women’s Shelter Society, says the shelter being planned would only operate until April 30, 2020. The committee would then seek a permanent location for next winter.

“It’s just a sleep service, and it’s just for the winter months,” Sorge says. “We don’t want anybody passing away outside in -40 C.”

Background information on OOTC shelters provided by Boychuk says while the shelters are not a solution to the housing crisis, they can be used as a point of first contact with the homeless population in the area and connect homeless and vulnerable individuals with other supports in the community.

Some OOTC programs have shown a 42.5 per cent chance of moving users of their shelter programs into permanent housing, and Grande Prairie has noted an 18 per cent reduction in crime since opening a shelter there.

Boychuk says the committee has been looking at the model used in Strathmore, which opened a shelter a year ago.

“It’s the perfect example for us,” Boychuk says.

Boychuk says the tentative plan is to use a temporary location or locations with volunteers starting in January 2020, and then find a permanent location.

“A few temporary locations are being worked out right now and we hope to have the first one in place very early January,” Boychuk says.

The committee may rotate the temporary overnight shelters between locations to avoid putting too much strain on any one organization. Local churches may be one option for temporary shelters. Once temporary shelters are organized, the committee is hopeful a permanent location can be found.

Sorge says while it’s possible a permanent location could be in place by later this spring, more likely it will be in place for next winter.

Boychuk also hopes the committee’s idea for overnight shelters would work in concert with other efforts like the PEACE Foundation’s community centre, where people would be able to do their laundry and socialize during the day.

As the plan comes together, Boychuk says the committee is ready to start building a list of volunteers ready to help overnight, until full time staff can be hired.

Sorge says anyone who wants to donate to the effort can do so right now by contacting the women’s shelter.

The committee is also working on building its policies, and plans to present the idea to the Town of Peace River in the near future.

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