Edmonton

Wetaskiwin without funding to house homeless this winter

Homeless people in Wetaskiwin won’t have a warm place to sleep this winter unless the city secures funding for a shelter — and fast.

Central Alberta city in talks with government, neighbouring communities to find solution

The City of Wetaskiwin is trying to secure funding to open a homeless shelter for the winter. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Homeless people in Wetaskiwin won't have a warm place to sleep this winter unless the city secures funding for a shelter — and fast.

"Without funding available, there are very limited things that we can do," Kim Kwiatkowski, Wetaskiwin's recreation coordinator, told CBC News.

The city and neighbouring communities have been in talks with the province, seeking funding for a long-term solution.

In a Facebook post, Wetaskiwin Mayor Tyler Gandam said he requested funding for a winter shelter last Friday at a meeting with Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin MLA Rick Wilson.

Officials from Wetaskiwin, Maskwacis, the province and RCMP discussed homelessness, mental health, treatment and transportation in the meeting at Wilson's constituency office.

"While the emergency shelter was open earlier this year, the RCMP saw a 50-per-cent decrease in overnight prisoners as well as a decrease in calls for service," Gandam's post reads.

"The hospital saw a decrease in visits and, with how cold it was, I'm certain we saved lives."

The community, 70 kilometres south of Edmonton, has struggled to find a long-term solution for housing its vulnerable population.
In September 2018, these sheds were being used as shelter by people with nowhere else to go. The sheds burned down in October. (David Bajer/CBC)

Last autumn, people slept under sheds meant to shade people from the summer sun. The sheds were destroyed when a fire in a burn barrel got out of control.

The city found a temporary solution in February, setting up an emergency shelter in the old town hall after securing a $40,000 provincial grant.

But the money has dried up.

The number of people experiencing chronic homelessness in the community of about 12,000 is small — one support services worker estimated about five people.

But Kwiatkowski said transient people who visit from surrounding communities are often temporarily displaced when they can't get back home, as transportation services in the area are limited.

Officials from Wetaskiwin and Maskwacis are exploring a potential partnership to tackle the transportation issue, she said.

Officials from Wetaskiwin, Masckwacis, the provincial government and RCMP met on Friday at MLA Rick Wilson's constituency office to discuss homelessness and mental health. (Eric Engler)

The emergency shelter took in upwards of 20 people a night before closing at the end of April — a clear indicator of the need for funding, Kwiatkowski said. 

"You can't really argue with the amount of people that were taking advantage of the shelter," she said. "[Homelessness] is still really relevant in our community. You see it all over, especially in the colder weather."

There are people out there that are hurting and are suffering.- Blayne Leeuw, Neighbours Outreach Wetaskiwin

Blayne Leeuw is board chair for soup kitchen Neighbours Outreach Wetaskiwin, which feeds up to 60 people on weekdays.

The other day, he noticed a tent in the trees by the Walmart parking lot.

"There are people out there that are hurting and are suffering and ... there's ways to help them," he said.

Leeuw said the city has made a good effort to establish housing. He'd like to see a permanent shelter in the future.

"It doesn't have to be a big place," he said. "Even if it's only four or five [people], to keep that individual alive, there needs to be a place."

About the Author

Anna McMillan

Journalist

Anna McMillan is a reporter at CBC Edmonton. You can reach her at anna.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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