‘I am so thankful we didn’t lose anyone’

Mat Program opens in Friendship Centre location

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

In spite of last-minute obstacles, Slave Lake’s overnight shelter for homeless people was able to open last week. It followed nearly four weeks of intensive effort on the part of Friendship Centre staff and volunteers to get a space ready.

Just a few days before that, Friendship Centre Executive Director Barb Courtorielle was not sounding optimistic about meeting her deadline. She told The Leader she had plumbing work to be finished off, and hadn’t been able to find anybody to do it.

“If I’m not open by November 30,” she said, “I lose my funding.”

Then came this, posted by Courtorielle on social media on the morning of Nov. 27:

“Good morning community. After much stress and hard work we are going to open the Mat program tonight. I am so thankful we didn’t lose anyone. I would like to thank everyone who has made this possible.”

The original intent had been to house the shelter in the basement of the old St. Peter’s Ecumenical Church on 7th St. SE. But pushback from people in the neighbourhood led to the Municipal Planning Commission rejecting the organizers’ application for another permit to operate in that location. Courtorielle appealed the MPC decision and the appeal board actually overturned the decision, as reported in the Nov. 20 Lakeside Leader. But by then the effort of converting the upstairs room at the rear of the Friendship Centre was already well underway and that push continued – as noted – right up to the last minute.

Courtorielle said on the afternoon of the 27th there was still a shortage of volunteers to run the Mat Program, so the recruitment effort continues. However, two did show up to help that evening, and the first night of operation “went really well,” she said the next morning.

Volunteer Heather Norberg does some last-minute cleaning in the Mat Program space at the Friendship Centre on Nov. 27.

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