Snow started falling on Oct. 22. From Oct. 22 to 26, the low fluctuated between -6.4°C (Oct. 26) and -12.4°C (Oct. 23). Since the homeless shelter in Slave Lake hasn’t opened yet, some people are sleeping outside in this weather. However, hope is on the horizon, as everything is in place for a homeless shelter except the building.
The planned opening date was November 1, but Town of Slave Lake CAO Jeff Simpson figures that will be put off by about a week. The town is waiting for the delivery of a double-wide skid-shack. Once it arrives, the shelter staff will set up.
The 2023-24 shelter will be in a large skid-shack on the southeast side of the Slave Lake Fire Hall property in northwest Slave Lake. The same site as last year, but with one instead of multiple skid-shacks.
For the first time, this will be run by the Town of Slave Lake.
The province reached out to the town to ask them to apply for homeless shelter funding, says Simpson. “It (the money received) is substantially more than any of the other groups have had success receiving.”
The province was more willing to give money to the town than a volunteer group, adds Simpson. The province sees the town as a more stable organization.
The province has provided money to buy the skid-shack, hire staff, and pay for utilities, food, and everything needed to run a shelter. The funding covers a manager and two staff for each shift to run a 24 hour shelter. Each shift, a shelter staff member and security will be at the shelter.
The town has hired a manager, Ayo Olowofela. Olowofela has worked for over six years with a homeless shelter in Edmonton, including as a manager. The town has also hired full-time and casual shelter staff and hired a contractor to provide security.
To start with, Simpson says the focus is “a warm place to stay to protect life and limb.”
Once things are up and running, the town will look into partnering with support services to offer programs.
“We welcome any sort of partnership,” says Simpson.
The town will look for input through an advisory committee and on a permanent location.
“After we’ve got some stability, our goal is to create an advisory committee,” adds Simpson. The idea is to gather a group of community members from diverse backgrounds and expertise for the manager and director to bounce ideas off of.
“Our focus right now is on the temporary shelter,” adds Simpson. “The other piece is getting started on a permanent location.”
The town expects to start public engagement on a permanent location in January. The province dedicated funds for this winter and April 1, 2024 to March 31, 2025, says Simpson. It has also given the town “verbal support for continued operational supports as long as it’s working properly,” he adds.
Locations for a shelter have been very contentious in the past and have been regularly stopped or delayed in the planning process with appeals when the municipal planning commission (MPC) approves or denies an application. Town council recently moved a few locations in town to council direct control, which would remove the need for an MPC application. It is likely that these are the proposed sites for a permanent shelter.
In the past the town was an active partner, but the temporary shelter was run by local non-profits. From 2014 to April 2021, the shelter was run by the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre on top of its normal programming. The location varied. In 2021, the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition Society was formed to run a temporary shelter and try to get funding and a location for a permanent one. It ran a temporary shelter in the winters of 2021-22 and 2022-23. This year, it had staff throughout the summer, and had hoped to start moving toward a permanent shelter solution.
“We had to let go of our employees,” says Andrew Achoba chair of the homeless coalition, “as the funding that we have runs out at the end of the month.”
With the town taking over running a homeless shelter, the coalition board is meeting semi-regularly to decide if they will change focus or close. Any change would align with the group’s focus on “improving human conditions for people.”
“We are not at a place where we’ve made a decision yet,” says Achoba. “Our gratitude to everyone who has supported the homeless coalition over the years. We couldn’t have done it without their support and that includes the town. Even though now that relationship needs some work.”