Just two days after The Pas' only homeless shelter abruptly announced financial issues are forcing it to close for good at the end of the month, the community is scrambling to make sure its most vulnerable citizens will have a warm place to stay this winter.
The shelter, run by The Pas Friendship Centre, is set to close as of Sept. 30, according to a public notice posted to the centre's Facebook page Aug. 31.
"There are more people on the streets this time of the year than in the winter, but the reality is there's probably three dozen people that I'm worried the most about long term," said The Pas mayor, Jim Scott. "They're downtrodden, a lot of them have addictions issues, a lot of them have mental health issues, and for some the homeless shelter has been the only home they know.
"What are we to do with these people? What can we do? I fear for them, I really do."
On the public notice, the Friendship Centre apologizes "for the impact this will have on our staff, our community and especially the community members who use the Shelter" and blames "insufficient funding and supports" for the pending closure.
The CBC was not able to reach anyone from The Pas Friendship Centre Saturday.
Scott says the centre is closed for the long-weekend, and all staff are out of town until Tuesday at the earliest, making it impossible to find out exactly what led to the closure notice or details including how much they would need to keep the shelter, known as Oscar's Place, open.
"The Friendship Centre had an annual general meeting a couple of months ago and there was no indication that this was about to happen," said Scott. "I'm not sure how they came to the conclusion that they have, but it's real, so we have to find a way to deal with that.
"We need to know how much it costs to operate that homeless shelter for a year, what are the costs for power, water, and all of that sort of stuff, so we can have an idea of what we'll need to go forward."
Roughly 30 people from the community met Saturday afternoon to get the conversation started about ways of keeping Oscar's Place open.
The group will meet again during the week — this time with officials from the Friendship Centre — to get to work on a six-month sustainability plan, said Olivia McCorriston, an instructor at University College of the North in The Pas who organized the weekend meeting.
McCorriston said the shelter houses between 25 and 45 people every night, and the hope is to have funding in place in time to keep the doors open at least throughout the winter.
"We're going to try to work through this together," said McCorriston. "The Pas has a really long hard winter, and we're a community that's gone through some real tough things over the last little while, but we're hearty … and we understand that there isn't a community without unity.
"We're looking at fundraising, we're looking at trying to find a grant, and we're looking at who can bring what to the table."
Scott said the community will have to come together to solve the issue because the local government is not in a position to provide any funding for the shelter.
"We're still working our way through last year's issue with the pulp mill, and now the railroad," he said. "These are huge issues. We've maxed out. We struck our budget in January and we don't have extra money to play with.
"This is a very caring, giving community, so if we have to do it through individuals we'll find a way — I just hope we can do it so everything is nice and smooth for October first."