Homelessness vs. vagrancy: council discusses complicated problem

Town of Slave Lake Council notebook

Jan. 15, 2019 meeting

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

The difficult topic of homelessness was up for discussion not because council has any appetite for spending money on it. Rather, it is a nagging issue and council had made a commitment earlier to see if the town can at least do something.

Leading off the discussion, mayor Tyler Warman made one or two things clear:

“We hear about it lots,” he said. “It may be getting larger (the problem).” But, “we have no funding for it. The province seems to have no long-term plan either.”

The Friendship Centre is doing a great job as far as it goes, Warman continued. “But their plate is full. We can’t expect them to do more.”

Councillor Rebecca King has been attending meetings of a ‘coalition’ of parties interested in the homelessness problem. She confirmed that the Friendship Centre has “no funds,” for it and everything that is done on behalf of the homeless is on a volunteer basis. The Mat Program is funded for the rest of the winter, she said, but that is only part of the story.

“It’s vagrancy more than homelessness,” she said. “They’re (many of the people who are taken for ‘homeless’) not using the Mat Program.”

King went on to say that there are services – for addictions, for example – but “there are no takers.

“A lot of them are getting money from the government,” she said, “but not using services.”

Warman said he had spoken to one of the ‘homeless’ people, who told him he didn’t use the overnight shelter because he’s not allowed to drink there.
King confirmed that some of the ‘vagrants’ who are causing trouble around town do, in fact, have places to stay.

Vance noted that the White Buffalo centre (in Kinuso) has shut down, which has aggravated the problem.

Warman said he planned on attending some meetings, but doesn’t want to carry the ball alone for the town. Haylie Millard, the town’s FCSS Coordinator, will also be involved. Warman added that there appears to be some possibility of funding to address homelessness via the Alberta Rural Development Network. He sees the town’s role as one of advocacy.

“If we put in a bit of time, maybe it can make a difference,” he said.

King said the Friendship Centre would like to hire a ‘Housing First’ coordinator, but needs to find funding for it.

End in sight?
Quizzing the town manager about the raw water line project, Mayor Tyler Warman asked, “Do you feel like there’s an end in sight?”

This was prompted by CAO Brian Vance’s written report for council, which spoke of continued leakage problems in a four-km. section of the line. The originally-projected completion date for the pipeline was back in August.

Warman added that the delays on the line completion aren’t causing any real hardship, as the existing water intake at the river works. “If this was any other project,” he said, “We’d be losing our minds.”

Vance said the contractor has a crew on site and is working on the persistent leaks at their own expense.

“They built the line with leaks and it’s fair they should fix them,” he said.

Directional signs on the highway
One thing the mayor has been pushing for is permission from the province to put signs in the Hwy. 2 right-of-way indicating that Main St. leads to downtown. He said as much to Transportation Minister Brian Mason when they met back in the fall. Mason was in generous mood and said, “Yeah, whatever you want!” (said Warman). That must have been the same meeting at which the minister agreed to get something done about the intersection of Hwy. 88 and Caribou Trail.

Mason had followed up, council heard, because the Athabasca regional office of Alberta Transportation contacted the town to ask what sort of signs it had in mind. That question was now before council.

On the other hand, the regional manager of AT reiterated what she’d told the town earlier: i.e. no signs are allowed in the right-of-way.

“If we can’t put anything on the right-of-way, it’s pointless,” said Warman.

Warman’s idea is to give passing motorists who might not know about it, a better indication of where downtown Slave Lake is. Various ideas were tossed around about what sort of signs might work best. Examples were displayed in a slide show. One of them was quite a large unit with opportunities for individual businesses to advertise. Warman speculated that the Chamber of Commerce might be able to operate that as a money-making enterprise.

However, no decisions were made. The question must be answered whether the minister’s promise or the departmental policy holds sway.

Service levels
Finishing off the previous week’s discussion about cutting hours at the pool and MRC, council made a trio of motions. One was to change the hours at the MRC. Effective April 1 of this year they will be 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. weekdays, and 12 noon to 4:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. From October 1 to Mar. 31, the hours will be 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. weekdays, 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Saturdays and 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Sundays.

Council however voted down a motion to change the opening time at the pool to 9:00 a.m. two days a week. One of the reasons – expressed by councillor Joy McGregor – was that the later time would interfere with early-morning practices for one of the swim clubs. Mayor Warman said he thought the savings (“minimal”) weren’t worth it, and that in any case he was more interested in improving efficiency than saving a bit of money.

The third motion had to do with changing the part-time janitorial position at the MRC to a summer seasonal position.

Mayor’s corner
Wrapping things up in the usual manner, Warman said another regional economic development meeting with the M.D. and the Sawridge was coming right up. Also to be discussed at that meeting were FireSmart issues and something to do with the Visitor Information Centre.

Warman said he’d be attending a Northern Alberta Elected Leaders meeting at St. Isidore later in the week.

Looking forward to late March, Warman mentioned (at councillor Busk’s urging) the Pee Wee provincial championship tournament that will be played in Slave Lake. He called it, “A huge opportunity to showcase our community.”

To which Busk added: “It would be prime time to have something else going on in the community.”

“They’ve got a committee working on it,” said Warman.

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