Homeless shelter work too much for Friendship Centre to do alone

Community involvement in homeless shelter urged

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Barb Courtorielle, Executive-Director of the Slave Lake Friendship Centre, coordinates the Mat Program alongside her full-time job. However, the Mat Program and other work with the homeless is taking so much of her and her staff’s time, they can’t get their real work done.

The Mat Program is a shelter from November to April, which provides a place to sleep for homeless people in Slave Lake.

When the Mat Program started in 2015, there was funding for a coordinator, Courtorielle said at the January 30 Homeless Coalition meeting. Now there is only funding for a security guard, utilities and some paper products. Everything else that Friendship Centre employees do, including providing a place for the homeless to shower, eat, and hang out, is on top of their normal work.

It takes about an hour and a half to help a homeless person peel off their used clothes, shower, dispose of the clothes, towels etc. and get them new clothes, said Courtorielle. During this time, the staff member can’t get their own work done.

With having the homeless there all the time, the Friendship Centre staff were three weeks behind on reporting, on January 30, said Courtorielle. This meant Courtorielle was behind on reporting, which could endanger the Friendship Centre’s general funding.

From what I hear, community member Edith Mackenzie said to Courtorielle at the meeting, “you’ve got burn-out coming on,”

There’s a need for volunteers to sit and chat with the homeless, said Courtorielle. If they have someone to talk to they won’t wander into her office and keep the staff from doing their work.

Community involvement
The Homeless Coalition discussion included ways to increase community involvement.

Jule Asterisk, community member and former housing first coordinator, said it would be good to gather statistics from the RCMP and AHS on how much not helping the homeless costs society. Statistics were key to getting the original funding for the Mat Program.

It is almost impossible to get AHS statistics, said Johan van der Nest, Slave Lake Family Care Clinic manager.

There’s no grant money to apply for, said Courtorielle and Garry Roth, Town of Slave Lake director of community services.

Statistics would be useful for “building the case within the community,” said Mackenzie.

The RCMP cannot arrest anyone who hasn’t broken the law, so if the Mat Program stopped, they aren’t the ones who would be affected, says RCMP Staff Sgt. John Spaans. It would be the general public. There would be more people sleeping in bank vestibules, etc.

“I would love to see the Chamber of Commerce here,” said Spaans.

Churches, the Town of Slave Lake, and local businesses were organizations that various coalition members wanted to see get more involved.

While not mentioned during the discussion, one Slave Lake church, the Community Christian Centre, has a soup kitchen on Thursdays from noon to 1. It’s been going for about four years.

The Slave Lake Homeless Coalition, discussing the issues on Jan. 30.

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