by Jessica Jones
for the Pipestone Flyer
Extreme weather, where frostbite can develop within minutes on exposed skin, has recently prompted the City of Wetaskiwin to create and implement an emergency homeless shelter in the city’s downtown.
City of Wetaskiwin Director of Community Services, Kevin Lucas, said the emergency shelter was put in place at the beginning of February at the Wetaskiwin Civic Building, 4904 51 Street, also known as old city hall.
The idea of a shelter began last summer, Lucas explained, but with the cold weather, some nights dipping down to minus 45, city council felt it was necessary a shelter was put into place immediately.
“We needed to do something about this,” Lucas said, who, along with other city staffers and council members, have been volunteering their time on the temporary shelter.
Lucas said that they had a lot of learning to do, as the city “is not an expert on emergency shelters,” reaching out to agencies and the province for assistance.
The City of Wetaskiwin further applied for grant funding from the province and received $40,000 for food, bedding and wages at the shelter. Lucas says, however, that the shelter has been run seven days a week by volunteers. With the funds from the provincial grant, he doesn’t believe there will be “much overage” that the city would be responsible for.
“This city is fantastic,” Lucas said.
“So many people have stepped up and donated time and have been so good to us. We feel like we have been successful in having this shelter available to the people who need it.”
People who need to spend the night at the emergency shelter are also able to have a warm meal, shower, and do their laundry. These past four weeks, Lucas says the number of people who stay at the shelter vary from 1 to 14 on a given night.
“We’ve never not had one person there to stay and we feel that we are making a difference,” he said.
“I personally feel very fortunate to live in this community and the support we have been getting is phenomenal. The support has been from homeowners to businesses; people have been very generous with their time.”
The shelter will close at the end of April, and in the meantime, Lucas says staff have been tasked with offering city council long-term strategies for a sustainable solution when it comes to a homeless shelter in the city.
According to a Community Social Needs Assessment, which was submitted to the City of Wetaskiwin by Nichols Applied Management Inc. in January, about one-half of respondents in a survey considered homelessness to be a priority social issue in Wetaskiwin.
“Homelessness was identified as one of the top three priorities for youth and people with disabilities,” the assessment noted. “This is higher than other communities of similar size in the province.”
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