LAC LA BICHE - Lac La Biche’s new transitional housing facility located next to the Alexander Hamilton Community Park is expected to be in operation before the snow flies.
The facility, built on municipal property, is hoped to reduce the amount of homeless and vagrancy in and around the community.
Lenora LeMay, the chairperson of the Lakeland Out of the Elements Shelter Society (LOESS), says the organization will be responsible for the operations of both the emergency mat program, offering overnight accommodation for adults, and transitional housing. She knows the new facility will serve a valuable purpose. The society currently operates a small, one-room shelter in a Lac La Biche residential neighbourhood that will often see as many as 25 people coming to their doors for a hot meal each day. The current shelter has space to accommodate six to eight overnight mats — but often sees up to a dozen people spending the night. The new shelter, constructed with a series of portable trailers, is designed to accommodate more than three times that many people, and will have programming to assist clients with social, mental and financial needs.
“Our goal is to be moved before winter and with that in mind, LOESS is working to ensure that the building is ready to accommodate both the mat and transitional program,” LeMay told Lakeland This Week.
Years in the making
In June, following years of discussions and public consultations, Lac La Biche County council voted to build an emergency homeless facility on an eight-acre municipally-owned property next the community park. A reserve fund of more than $500,000 had been set aside by previous council in preparation for the project. Prior to the approval of permits and land re-zoning this year, more than $800,000 had been spent to retrofit trailers, clear the land, provide services to the area and maintain a temporary camp area on property in the Bonesville subdivision, south of the Lac La Biche hamlet.
Over the past few months, more site preparation has been done at the new location.
LeMay says LOESS has been working with the municipality and a transitional housing committee made up of community partners to prepare for the move to the new location. Those partnerships will remain vital into the operational stage of the project.
“We will continue to work with our current service partners and community members as a whole to work toward creating transitional housing,” she explained. “A number of our service partners have been working with us to ensure that those who are experiencing homelessness feel included and relevant to the successes in our community which is essential in beating homelessness.”
Over the years of discussions, the shelter has raised many concerns from community residents and groups — especially those affected by the selection of a location for the site.
Most recently, prior to council’s final approval of the project, area homeowners, neighbouring landowners, service groups and residents questioned the proximity of the facility to the community park. With the transitional housing facility just metres from trails used by school classes, and its proximity to community garden plots and family gathering places, including the trout pond, dog park and recently built Lac La Biche Rotary Club disc golf course, they felt it wasn’t the best location.
At a meeting with councillors last November, where the public gallery was filled with concerned residents, Rotary Club past-president Sue Ward stressed that people are not opposed to helping the homeless, they simply think a better location could be found.
Lakeland This Week did contact members of the Lac La Biche Rotary Club this week, but representatives of the organization declined to comment.
Lemay says she understands the concerns but explains that clients using the facility want to better themselves and find stable lifestyles. She says the facility and the clients they serve will work with the community to find solutions. She expects that many of the people eventually using the programming will want to find jobs and offer services to the community. She hopes the community will help.
"We are always on the lookout for places where people can find day-to-day or week-to-week jobs to get themselves back into the work force,” she said. “Additionally, we promote opportunities for those we support to volunteer as a way of giving back and becoming more involved in our community.”
According to design plans for the new site, the area will be completely fenced with an access that is not connected to the park entrance.
Lac La Biche County officials were contacted for an update on the project’s completion schedule but have not immediately responded.