In response to the cold snap, the Mat Program was opened up for 24 hours for seven days at the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018.
Barb Courtorielle, of the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre, says the seven days were from Dec. 27 to Jan. 2. She said the program was opened up for 24 hours because of the cold spell.
Courtorielle says it all went really well. During the Christmas season and cold spell there were 14 people that used the Mat Program. Out of that, nine stayed at the shelter at St. Peter’s Ecumenical Church for the whole time.
Courtorielle reported that there were a couple of new faces that stayed there for a couple of days and left but most were regulars who she has seen in the last four years. She credited the cold for the spike in usage.
Guests grouped together and partook in various activities. Courtorielle says they watched movies, played cards and exchanged stories. She felt it was a good time for everyone involved, including the workers.
“It was really nice, relaxing and comfortable,” she says.
The community in general pulled together during this time and brought food and warm clothes to the shelter. This meant the homeless were able to get some jackets and ski pants. Courtorielle says she was able to outfit some of them quite well.
“It was all just amazing,” she says.
Since the Mat Program was open for 24 hours, this meant three meals had to be served. Courtorielle says she was busy cooking during that time and even had to pull a few 12 hour shifts. The security guards volunteered to help, which gave her a bit of a break.
The Slave Lake RCMP also referred people to the shelter. Courtorielle says it is good that the police do that and support it. She feels the police are a good partner.
“I like it when they (RCMP) come because this lets the homeless know they (RCMP) are a short ways away and they do support the Mat Program,” she says.
As far as funding goes, the community donations allowed the Mat Program to operate for 24 hours for six days but Courtorielle has not heard back on further funding for the program. She is working hard to get more funding.
The Mat Program has funding to last until February.
Courtorielle has expressed interest in reforming the stakeholder group that helps run the shelter. She has not made progress on reforming the group as the time of this interview. Her time has been spent running the Mat Program but as things calm down she will work on the stakeholder group.
Courtorielle felt that the results of the seven days show that transition housing is needed. She explained that the homeless behaved well. There was no alcohol use, no drugs and those that stayed did not leave the church.
“It really was an eye opener,” she says.
As for the report on rural homelessness in Slave Lake done by the University of Calgary that was released in December 2017, Courtorielle has not heard anything from the community yet. She says that one of the researchers who compiled the data, Dr. Anne Marie McLaughlin, will come to town to present the report in the near future. She thinks it will be sometime in February.
Courtorielle is planning on holding a lunch meeting to present the report.