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Support programs making headway for Lakeland homeless populations

Supporting vulnerable populations with shelter and wrap-around services across the Lakeland region is getting an investment in some communities as the winter season settles in.

LAKELAND - Supporting vulnerable populations with shelter and wrap-around services across the Lakeland region is getting an investment in some communities as the winter season settles in.  

Last month, the City of Cold Lake invested $625,000 to prepare land and purchase trailers to create a drill camp that municipal officials are aiming to be operational in the new year, says Mayor Craig Copeland. 

“We haven't had a homeless shelter mat program operating all spring, summer, fall and into the winter, so it's been a while,” he says, addressing the dire need to support the local homeless population as the temperatures drop. 

The site for the facility will be situated on a parcel of land located on the city’s south side along 40th Avenue. 

 “We're going to put water, sewer and power into the lot, and that'll roughly be about $300,000... the contractors out there right now... they’re just finishing up the locates to make sure it's safe to work," he told Lakeland This Week on Nov. 9.

The drill camps were purchased from Precision Drilling in Grande Prairie and are being transported to the community this month. The mayor says the trailers are already retrofitted to host wrap-around services for the vulnerable communities once the site is prepared. 

“They're kind of functionable that they have a big kitchen, a living room, bedrooms... laundry,” and a mat program for sleeping arrangements, he explains. The program will also include support in social, mental health, medical and life support to be offered by the John Howard Society, a national non-profit that operates in the community, offering services for vulnerable populations. 

“The City owns the land, the City owns the building,” he says about the project that is intended to support roughly 20 people at a time. Moving forward, the municipality will work to establish a lease agreement with the John Howard Society to run the site officially. The program will also see $100,000 in grant funding utilized. 

Tent communities 

With a total population of just over 16,000 in the City of Cold Lake, concerns regarding the municipality’s homeless population have come up.  

Throughout the year, the City Cold Lake has had roughly 50 tents pop up around the community, primarily around the downtown core, says Copeland. The makeshift homes have been a concern for the local business community. 

“We're coming at it from a compassionate side to provide accommodations to get them out of the elements at night. But also, we're trying to clean up the camping that is illegally going around our City,” says Copeland. 

“We're trying to do a balance here.” 

Loitering bylaw introduced 

On Nov.8, the City of Cold Lake Council passed a bylaw to allow police to enforce loitering overnight. The bylaw is aiming to make sure the work being done to not only dismantle the tents is being followed but to prevent crime and overnight emergencies throughout the city, said Copeland. 

“It’s for any commercial laneways. People cannot build their structures, can't loiter, and if so they'll get a $200 fine from the bylaw officer...we're basically putting in a curfew from midnight to six in the morning.” 

At the heart of the concern is the safety and security of everyone, says Copeland. And as the community's vulnerable population is in need, finding the balance to fund projects and getting support from provincial and federal governments is vital, he explains. 

“In a perfect world, there would be nobody in the building, but we know that that's not the way the world is right now… our hope is the province takes a major step, along with the federal government, to help municipalities fund it.” 

Lac La Biche homeless needs 

And in Lac La Biche County the situation is just as dire. A Transitional Housing Project aiming to build similar wrap-around services for the local population this winter hasn’t become operational yet. County officials have approved an eight-acre property for a similar project to replace local shelters and boost service needs. 

The Lakeland Out of the Elements Shelter will be transitioned to the site, and the project is going to fill a large need, says Kimberly Spence, shelter coordinator. 

“We're actually very, very excited for the future of our shelter when it comes to incorporating transitional housing,” especially considering the small space the shelter is currently operating out of.  

Right now, roughly 10-15 clients are visiting the shelter overnight and seeking services, an increase since the winter season began, says Spence. With the upcoming local transitional housing project, Spence says it will support staff and patients by offering more services. 

“I personally believe that the facility would help our homeless population, even motivate them to make better choices... so it's incredibly important.” 

While the Lakeland Out of the Elements Shelter is located in the heart of town, the new site is scheduled to be located roughly two kilometres away from the current shelter and some community services. Nonetheless, she hopes it will serve the needs of the vulnerable population. 

“I do realize that it's going to be a bit further out of town for us and mainly our clients. They're the ones that don't really have access to transportation… I hope that they're still having their needs met out there.”