On Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, more details about Wetaskiwin’s temporary winter emergency shelter were presented to the community during a town hall hosted virtually by the Leduc, Nisku and Wetaskiwin Regional Chamber of Commerce.
City of Wetaskiwin employees including Mayor Tyler Gandam and general manager of community and protective services Paul Edginton spoke during the town hall and updated community members on the current and upcoming status of the winter emergency shelter projected to open Dec. 1 in Wetaskiwin, Alta.
The winter emergency shelter is set to have space for 20 sleeping mats and four toilets for the city’s vulnerable population. The trailers procured for the warming shelter have been placed at 37A Ave. in Wetaskiwin.
The City of Wetaskiwin received access to the encampment on Nov. 26 and met with the official shelter operators — the Mustard Seed, as announced during the virtual town hall — to prepare the shelter for its opening.
“We aren’t done,” said Edginton. “The emergency shelter was a fire that we needed to put out again, but we need to keep working until the systemic social issues within our community cease to exist.
“We need to work with community agencies, and we aren’t always going to agree, we need to find the courage in ourselves and work together to find solutions to these issues.”
Edginton says he has been meeting with representatives from the provincial government on a weekly basis to help them understand the extent of the needs and situation in Wetaskiwin.
On Nov. 16, the Government of Alberta announced that they would be providing an additional $21.5 million of funding province wide to help people experiencing homelessness and domestic violence. During the town hall Edginton informed Wetaskiwin residents that approximately $13 million of that funding will go to emergency homeless shelters around the province including Wetaskiwin.
Approximately $6.5 million of those funds have been earmarked for COVID-19 isolations facilities for vulnerable populations.
Out of the funding from the provincial government, it is still undetermined the exact amount that will be for Wetaskiwin and its shelter.
Regularly there are 34 individuals living at the current homeless encampment in Wetaskiwin.
In the month leading up to the opening of the winter emergency shelter, Wetaskiwin Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) provided services to the Wetaskiwin tent encampment after the previous agency providing services pulled their services on Nov. 15, 2021.
On Nov. 18, the City of Wetaskiwin approved Wetaskiwin FCSS to use surplus city dollars under the state of emergency regulations to procure supplies including food and important winter clothing for the encampment.
Supplies started to be delivered to the encampment the next day through partnership with Samson Community Wellness Outreach and volunteers from the Guiding Coalition of Homelessness.
Community member volunteers Jessi Hanks and Natalie Pearce have managed donations for the camp and have worked with Wetaskiwin FCSS to ensure that every person in the encampment has a winter coat, boots, hat, socks and gloves.
When residents of the encampment move in to the trailers provided for the shelter, the Mustard Seed will take over the necessities of running the shelter.
Currently the Mustard Seed is working with the Government of Alberta to try and secure a potential grant agreement for a 24/7 shelter in Wetaskiwin. The Mustard Seed is also seeking volunteers and staff for the winter emergency shelter.
At the virtual town hall Mayor Gandam pointed out that the city lacks resources that other levels of government have including a ministry of health and reiterated that it will take more than just the city itself to see the shelter succeed.
“It is everybody’s responsibility to take some proactive effort to alleviate some of the issues we have regarding homelessness, dealing with the issues we have in Wetaskiwin,” said Gandam.
This Friday the Wetaskiwin Emergency Shelter Advisory Board is scheduled to meet and discuss what supports are required to transition the vulnerable population from the existing encampment to the emergency shelter. Monthly meetings will be held with representatives from the shelter, medical, policing, and social agencies to discuss matters relating to the emergency shelter and moves to tackle gaps in service delivery.
One of these gaps in service is that there is no showers in the warming shelter.
Although it is still a work in progress, Edginton says that the city is hoping that with the new shelter operator and funding from the province, that this will be the year the shelter succeeds in the city as past years have not been very successful.
“We are hoping that this will be the first year it won’t fail,” said Edginton.