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John Howard Society keeps clients warm and fed

Cold Lake John Howard Society Shelter overnight mat program offers warm meal and warm place to sleep throughout the winter months. The mat program at the shelter will be closing as of April 30, while outreach services will remain available.
Breanna Ernst photo

COLD LAKE - The Cold Lake John Howard Society provided an update to City council at the last regular meeting on April 11, highlighting the success of its winter mat program that will be wrapping up on April 30. 

Candice Sutterfield, board chair with the John Howard Society, summarized the past few months to council. On Jan. 19, the Cold Lake John Howard Society Shelter opened its doors. The shelter offers a mat program, giving those in need a hot meal and a warm place to stay from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., daily.

Once the mat program wraps up this month, the society will be strictly outreach. She noted that the number of people spending the night at the shelter has decreased with the arrival of warmer weather.

The society included a total of 11 staff, which was made up of outreach workers who worked during the day, overnight staff, a cook/cleaner and security.

The Cold Lake John Howard Society was recently included in a list of local organizations that will receive provincial food security grants. This means the society is able to keep its cook on staff until July, filling a gap in the community and ensuring those with food security issues have something to eat.

The society has 83 clients with food insecurity, and there has been an influx of people coming in to the breakfast and lunch program. 

“There’s a gap in service," acknowledged Sutterfield.

When going over the society's budget, Sutterfield noted that payroll is one of the more expensive line items. Security and the cost of propane were also significant expenses. Speaking about propane specifically at the facility, Sutterfield noted that in the winter it costs on average $3,000 a month to heat the facility, which is made up of six trailers, each with its own furnace. 

About $28,000 in maintenance costs to replace pipes were also required over the winter months. There were also some unexpected items such as snow removal, that were required to operate. 

The society did receive a $284,000 grant from the Government of Alberta to operate. And in October of 2022, the City of Cold Lake approved $100,000 for the society "to establish a mobile outreach program to assist Cold Lake’s vulnerable and unhoused population," according to information from the City. Funding came from the City's Social Inclusion and Infrastructure Grant Program.

Looking ahead, Sutterfield noted that only $77 has been included in the food budget for the society, thanks to a partnership with the food bank and use of the food grant. Outreach workers and a program manager will also remain on staff to continue their work.

The community has also stepped forward throughout the winter, with a local church bringing in over $200 worth of Chinese food one day, the FCSS department providing leftovers from its functions, and Cold Lake First Nations also bringing in extra food items, for example.

Students at Portage College have also helped by collecting 700 lbs of clothing. Another group collected boxes of cereal for local breakfast programs and donated the remaining items to the society and the food bank, said Sutterfield.

Community collaboration has been a big part of providing needed services to people in need. The society works with FCSS, addiction services, community learning, a health nurse from Cold Lake First Nations, and local volunteers who stop by to cut hair, for example.

A number of outreach services are offered to people at the society. One example Sutterfield noted was helping people do taxes. She noted that if someone has been incarcerated recently, for example, they may not be up to date on their taxes and they may not be getting benefits from the government. People also sometimes need helping getting proper identification and setting up bank accounts.

Sutterfield provided a few statistics, stating that there are 62 active clients at the shelter, and that 14 are female and 48 are male. She acknowledged that you would not see all clients in-house at once, and that many do move between communities. 

The Cold Lake John Howard Society was established in Cold Lake in 2020.

Janice Huser

About the Author: Janice Huser

Janice Huser has been with the St. Paul Journal since 2006. She is a graduate of the SAIT print media journalism program, is originally from St. Paul and has a passion for photography.
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