Grande Prairie Métis group working to expand shelter for at-risk elders
'We actually do something about the homelessness and make sure that they leave in a positive way'
A Métis group in Grande Prairie wants to build a second elder's shelter in the city, which would more than double the number of beds available to Indigenous seniors facing homelessness.
The Elder's Caring Shelter, together with Métis Local 1990, applied for support from the City of Grande Prairie in 2017.
"We're waiting in anticipation of a decision," said Walter Andreeff, project manager for the proposed shelter. "To continue to enable this project, we need some support dollars."
The current Elder's Caring Shelter in Grande Prairie has 16 bedrooms. Residents are 55 or older and at risk of becoming homeless.
Men and women can stay at the shelter as long as they need to, or until they require nursing-home care. They pay $600 per month for room and board, including meals.
Monthly wait lists usually include 10 or more people from across Western Canada, Andreeff said.
A second shelter, proposed for an empty lot across the street, would create 25 more spaces.
"That would be helpful to us in terms of trying to alleviate the stress on some of the other services around here," he said.
Designs for the additional building are ready but his organization needs money to realize them, Andreeff said.
The province covers roughly half of the $200,000 annual budget for the Elder's Caring Shelter. The remainder is paid through rental fees and fundraising events organized by staff and residents.
Métis Local 1990 and the shelter want the City of Grande Prairie to sell them the land on which the current shelter sits, so it can be used for collateral.
They are also asking the city for a loan agreement to buy the privately owned land that was proposed as a site for the second shelter.
A city spokesperson told CBC News he is aware of the requests. He said administration is expected to make a recommendation to council by the end of April.
If they are able to purchase the land, Andreeff said the two organizations will rely on grants and more fundraising events to pay for the new building.
Once it's built, they will apply for additional government funding to maintain and operate the site.
'People come in here just destitute'
The investment will pay off long-term by keeping seniors healthy and off the street, said shelter manager Benita Galandy.
"We actually do something about the homelessness," Galandy said. "People come in here just destitute and when they leave they're on their way to freedom again.
"They can go back into the community and not be dependent on the other community services ... we want to empower them to get out there and lead a better life."
The Elder's Caring Shelter focuses on Indigenous cultural programming, she said. Residents are also expected to help maintain the building through daily chores and fundraising.
There is zero tolerance for drug and alcohol abuse, Galandy said.
'We're filled right up'
Hazel Ducharme, 62, said the shelter gives her a purpose in life.
"It's lonely when you're living by yourself and doing nothing," Ducharme said. "They find things for you to do here. It's really one of the best places you can come to."
She has lived at the shelter four times since 2011. Ducharme most recently returned in January, after realizing she could no longer stay with family.
"I find that the best place is here at the elder's shelter," she said. "It's a good place. This is home to me. They treat me good and they respect me."
The shelter's longest-term resident, Gib Hval, said capacity has always been an issue.
"We're filled right up," said Hval, 66.
He joined the community nine years ago, after a heart attack left him unemployed and unable to work.
"I was by myself and that wasn't normal," Hval said. "So I came here and I liked it and I stayed."
The Métis man said he appreciates the shelter's Indigenous focus and hopes 25 more elders can soon take advantage.