It sure has been impressive to see the community stepping up to help the Mat Program get back on its feet. The turnout at the pancake breakfast fundraiser at the Friendship Centre on Nov. 4 was just part of the story. Part, but a pretty big part, with around $2,500 raised! How often do you hear numbers like that from a breakfast?
And that was on top of a few significant donations to the program, after the news broke a few weeks ago that it had closed down for various reasons.
The response seems to indicate how seriously the homeless situation is taken by the community – or at least a significant part of the community. Charity begins at home, they say, and this is one of the things that hits closest to home. Helping to keep people off the streets at night in the killer cold is something very worthwhile and it’s encouraging to see such a response.
There’s a bigger issue, of course, when it comes to homelessness. Root causes and all that. But that stuff is typically too big and complicated for any local solution. We can rally behind an overnight shelter to keep people from freezing to death. It’s something at least that the average joe can wrap his head around and believe in the benefits of. What to do about social alienation, addiction, mental health issues….. we certainly don’t have the answers.
The Friendship Centre was leading the way in the ‘Housing First’ strategy, which proposed that securing permanent housing for the homeless was the first step in finding solutions to their other problems. The overnight shelter thing was an even earlier first step; much more was supposed to come. The biggest obstacle to Housing First, we were told, was that the provincial government was only funding it in a handful of Alberta cities – not in towns of Slave Lake’s size. That could change, but probably not without a credible local lobby. What sort of shape that advocacy effort is in, given the recent struggles of the Friendship Centre, is an open question.
In the meantime, the survival of the Mat Program seems pretty important. The outpouring of support for it, as we’ve noted, is very encouraging.