Homelessness vs vagrancy: hot topic issue

Callie Hermanson
Lakeside Leader

Six people were in attendance at the Slave Lake homeless coalition meeting on January 31st.

Haylie Millard , FCSS coordinator for the Town of Slave Lake, Garry Roth, director of community services for the Town of Slave Lake, Joy McGregor, Town of Slave Lake council member, Barb Courtorielle, executive director for the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre, Rebecca King, Town of Slave Lake council member and board member for the Friendship Centre and Jean Twin with Native Counselling Services.

McGregor started off the meeting by compiling a list of people with services to provide who they would like to email to get them involved in the meetings.

Courtorielle then moved into the agenda, announcing she had received $30,189 from Sharron Blackwell with Alberta Community and Family Services. She said the money is to help keep the Mat Program running for the rest of the winter.

Courtorielle then continued on to talk about the statistics for the Mat Program from 2017 to 2019. She said they had a particularly busy November and December, with a total intake of 187 people for November, with 12 new people and three seniors. She said December jumped even higher with an intake of 240 people, with an intake of 16 new people and four seniors.

“For the past few nights we have been over our allowed limit so I’m going to have to call the cops tonight to come and get the excess,” said Courtorielle. “We are only allowed 15 people and after that it is an issue.”

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

King stated the Friendship Centre is going to work on some communication with community members to bring awareness to behaviours and actions that may be enabling the vagrancy issue the centre is experiencing.

“Services are being offered to the visible population on our streets who need it,” she said. “Yet the offers are repeatedly turned down.”

King mentioned between the RCMP and Peace Officers they are averaging over two calls a day to deal with the vagrancy behaviour.

Another thing causing a large increase in users of Mat Program has to do with the closure of White Buffalo (in Kinuso) in late November, King added. King said the Friendship Centre will be putting out an application to access funding for a Housing First Co-ordinator.

King said she was definitely hoping to have more people around the table to help brainstorm strategies and ideas.

“However I anticipate the group will get stronger now that we have a secretary who can send out meeting reminders and agendas to the agencies that we feel would have a positive impact on this situation.”

The next meeting will be on February 28 at 1:00 p.m. at the Native Friendship Centre.

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