Here are some of the ways rural Alberta is tackling rural homelessness

Two Alberta municipalities are tackling rural homelessness in unique ways as the problem becomes more visible, due to housing issues and greater awareness.

Funding for homelessness can often be concentrated in urban centers and money from all levels of government is neither consistent nor timely, leaving some rural communities on their own, according to community advocates.

In Edson, Alberta, a town about 200 west of Edmonton, community advocates raised funds and received money from city council and the provincial rural development network to open five shelters – small heated spaces with enough room for a sleeping pad, fire alarm and charging sockets. Each small space is approximately 1.5 meters (five feet) by 2.4 meters (eight feet).

Pods, which are only open at night and located in a recycling depot, are meant for individual use, but it’s not uncommon to find multiple people inside one.

“Most of the time, we probably have about 20 people using [all the pods] regularly, ”said Erica Snook-Pennings, a registered social worker who helped run the project.

The pods, which cost around $ 105,000 to build, opened in mid-July and will be the first winter they’ll be in use, in an area that sometimes sees temperatures drop below -30 C.

Customers who want to use the pods line up outside as they are first come, first served. At 8 p.m., they press a button which calls a volunteer, who then opens the door remotely. So far, the need already exceeds the demand.

Five shelters have been added to a space at Edson’s recycling depot to help Edson’s homeless find a safe space away from the elements, but demand already exceeds supply. (Kory Siegers / CBC)

Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara said economic activity in the area with energy projects means hotel rooms and rentals are not as available as they used to be, making homeless people more homeless. visible to the community.

We’re just trying to manage as best we can.– Kevin Zahara, Mayor of Edson, Alberta.

“We don’t have the capacity, like they do in the big centers or the volunteer base, to help in these areas. So it’s a pretty acute problem and we’re just trying to manage as best we can.” , Zahara said.

Old converted motel

About 140 kilometers northeast of Edson, community advocates in the town of Whitecourt, Alta., Converted a motel into transitional housing where guests can live from six months to two years.

Shelagh Watson of the Soaring Eagle Support Society, a nonprofit that works with vulnerable people in Whitecourt, said 30 people have been living in the Eagle’s Nest Motel since it began hosting guests in May. A handful of them have since become permanent housing.

Customers are between 30 and 60 years old, according to Watson. Some have addiction and mental health issues, while others experience financial hardship.

Shelagh Watson of the Soaring Eagle Support Society stands in the makeshift kitchen where community members often give food to residents who stay in the Eagle’s Nest Motel. (Kory Siegers / CBC)

“Housing is what they need more than anything. And so just being able to provide that stability so people can move on with their lives is encouraging,” Watson said.

Housing is what they need more than anything.– Shelagh Watson, Soaring Eagle Support Society

However, Watson only has enough money, accumulated through grants and donations, to keep the site running until the end of December. She has yet to hear if she will receive federal funding for the project; a decision on this is expected in March.

“It frustrates me… It gives me a lot of anxiety,” she said. “I have a wonderful staff who recognize that their jobs only exist quarter to quarter because we have the funding, and they are very dedicated to what they do.”

Jamie Cullins moved to the Eagle’s Nest Hotel after living on the streets in Edmonton.

“My reaction was, you know, happy because it’s a place for people to live who have a hard time living on their own or whatever,” he said.

Jamie Cullins is reading one of the many books he has collected since he started staying at the Eagle’s Nest Motel. (Kory Siegers / CBC)

The property includes a common area for guests with books and meeting rooms, and it also offers workshops and other services to help them get back on their feet.

During the three months he was there, Cullins was in rehab, is considering entering rehab and is hoping to find stable employment as a welder.

He said if he hadn’t found the old motel he would probably still be living on the street.

His long term plan now?

“What I would love to do is find my own place to live, possibly an apartment that I can afford,” Cullins said.

Eagle’s Nest Motel in Whitecourt is now functioning as transitional accommodation for community members at risk of becoming homeless. (Kory Siegers / CBC)

Financing difficulties

Organizers of the two initiatives say funding to tackle homelessness is hard to come by in rural Canada.

“We don’t have access to any permanent core funding,” Watson said.

Erica Snook-Pennings describes the fundraising situation as “extremely frustrating”.

“I certainly recognize that the population of homeless people is higher in cities, but they also already have existing infrastructure to deal with a lot of this. We are flying by the seat of our pants here,” a- she declared.

Justin Marshall, spokesperson for Alberta Community and Social Services Minister Jason Luan, said the provincial government recognizes homelessness is a growing concern for a number of communities. In November, the province struck a task force to find innovative ways to tackle homelessness; at the time, there was no voice from rural Alberta on this.

“This is why Edson will receive up to $ 150,000 to operate an overnight shelter and daytime supports by March 31, 2022,” Marshall said in a statement to CBC News.

“We are also adding Edson community voices to the Rural Working Group Committee and other rural communities will also be included on this Working Group Committee.”

A joint statement from Employment and Social Development Canada and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation says the federal government has committed nearly $ 100 million from 2019 to 2024 to help rural and remote communities provide support to people. homeless or at risk people.

As part of the Quick Housing Initiative, the federal government said it would provide $ 2.5 billion in immediate support to municipalities with a high number of tenants in severe housing need and through a demand-based process.

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