Homeless shelter needs new location after busy year

Some have found homes; calls to police, ambulance down

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

The Slave Lake Mat Program provides a safe place for people to sleep out of the cold. From November 27 to June 29, it had 936 individual visits. The season started almost a month late, because of planning permission and renovations. It was increased by two months, because of COVID-19.

“At the end of the day, we have probably saved people from freezing to death,” says Barb Courtorielle who manages the program. The men and women visiting vary in age from 18 to 76 years. Some are local and others come for a period of time from the surrounding area.

A number of young people who were couch surfing are now homeless, says Courtorielle. She tells them “it’s not safe out there any more.”

This year, the program was able to help one homeless man find a home. Another couple has been off the streets for two years.

The couple are “hanging on by their toenails,” says Courtorielle
The Mat Program being open this year is thanks to local companies and volunteers, says Courtorielle. In the fall, the previous location was no longer available, but Slave Lake community donated supplies, labour, and money to make the Youth Centre at the Friendship Centre usable.

For next year, the Mat Program is looking for a new location.

The Mat Program has four more years of funding. Courtorielle is planning to apply for funding to start in October.

“We know its (October is) cold,” she says.

Each day at the Mat Program is different, but this year about four individuals slept there most nights. There were also many people who only came for one or two nights.

Although open for one month and three days longer than last year, there were less visits this year. The 936 total visits were divided as follows:
November (three days) – three visits; December – 119; January – 159; February – 120; March – 198; April – 137; May – 109; and June – 91.

Last years numbers as reported in the July 10, 2019 Leader were 1,129 visits, from November 1, 2018 to April 30, 2019. The ambulance was called 29 times, the RCMP 27, and Courtorielle 23.

This year, the number of calls to the police and RCMP were down: 14 to RCMP, and five ambulance. Calls to Courtorielle weren’t reported, but did happen.

Often February is busiest, says Courtorielle, but this winter March was colder.

Courtorielle is the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre’s executive director. The Friendship Centre is one of the organizations which is represented at the Homeless Coalition.

A homeless coalition meeting will be held on July 30 at 1 p.m. or earlier. Contact the Friendship Centre 780-849-3039 to attend. All meetings are open to the public.

Friendship Centre Executive Director Barb Courtorielle

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