By Jayne Foster, The Battleford News Optimist, October 8, 2014 A permanent homeless shelter should be open in North Battleford in November.
Friday an announcement at the former Reclaim Outreach Centre at 962-102nd Street drew community leaders and representatives of The Lighthouse of Saskatoon to welcome the program to the Battlefords.
In an emotional address, Mayor Ian Hamilton of North Battleford said, “I can’t tell you how passionate I am about what is happening here today.”
“There’s no way we want anyone to ever freeze to death because they have no access to shelter.”
Over the last several years, the Battlefords Indian and Metis Friendship Centre has been stretched to its capacity trying to operate temporary shelter during the winter months, for which Hamilton thanked the organization. The new shelter will operate year round, 24 hours a day, as an extension of the Lighthouse Supported Living of Saskatoon.
He also thanked Don Toovey and Pastor Len Beaucage of the Reclaim Outreach Centre, whose work over several years to establish a homeless centre in the same building has shown the way.
“The will was there,” he said. “The means were not.”
Efforts by ROC to operate an evening emergency shelter began in 2011 and were nearly quashed when, in 2012, an important funding opportunity was denied by the federal government. In fact, the Lighthouse had also found itself at the point where the project’s future was in limbo, and was put back on track with funding from BATC CDC.
Neil Sasakamoose, BATC executive director, said the organization has always had at the back of its mind that it would be the backup if other options didn’t materialize. BATC CDC had also been providing funding for the BIMC.
“When this opportunity came up, the Lighthouse really worked for it,” he said. “They didn’t give up.”
He said at the eleventh hour, things weren’t looking good and the board made a decision, saying, “That’s enough. This is a facility we need, this is support our people need.”
Sasakamoose noted on a visit to the Lighthouse in Saskatoon that many of the people being served there were First Nation.
BATC Tribal Chair Lori Whitecalf said, “In a perfect world we wouldn’t have this day.”
She said she was thinking how cold it was that morning, and about those who don’t have shelter.
“I can go into my truck or my home. Many people can’t.”
She welcomed the support, as well as the shelter, the new centre will provide.
“Sometimes our people can’t look after their emotional and spiritual health.”
In addition to providing emergency shelter, the centre will provide support and resources to the homeless and people finding it had to retain permanent housing.
“We see this as a continuum from emergency shelter to more permanent long term assistance,” said Hamilton.
Initially, there will be about 36 beds available in two wards, one for women and one for men, as well as rooms for families. There will be a separate area for those who are intoxicated, although admission will be denied to highly intoxicated or violent individuals, in which case the RCMP will be called.
Inspector John Sutherland of the Battlefords RCMP welcomed the centre.
When he was stationed to the Battlefords, he said he called on the insight of the RCMP members here, and heard a consistent message – that they are dealing with a lot of people through incarceration that have medical issues or social issues who “now will get dignity and respect through the shelter.”
DeeAnn Mercier said a delegation from North Battleford visited their facility this spring, and the Lighthouse felt it would be able to provide some of the long-term supports needed in North Battleford, especially because there was community support.
“The community was asking for it, the community was going to invest in it.”
“We were fortunate Don Toovey and Pastor Len were able to help us with this building,” she said.They purchased the building, but it didn’t pass what is needed to have people spend the night, she said, specifically a fire suppression system.
“We had the will and a way, but there was a bit of a gap,” said Mercier.
Then they had conversations with BATC , who filled that gap.
Mercier said the project will continue to be something that can only work with community support, from getting contractors in a timely manner, then looking to hire staff and continue fundraising. A website has been set up, lighthousebattlefords.org, where donations can be made.
“It is in some sense a bittersweet thing that we have to open a homeless shelter,” said Mercier, “but yet it’s also a symbol of hope, that we value our neighbours and our friends, that these people matter and that dignity and respect is something everybody deserves.”
Don Windels, executive director of Lighthouse Supported Living, hosted a tour through the building about to be renovated, noting the current business tenants using a part of the building will remain.
The area where ROC currently has its worship area will be virtually untouched, he said. Part of the purchase agreement is that they will continue to use it for services on Sunday evenings. During the week it will be used mainly as a common area served by the door in that area during the daytime.
At night, the entrance further to the west will be used and will open to a reception area.
There will be a nearby holding area where people who may pose a risk to those in the dorms can be contained.
“The purpose isn’t to house violent individuals, that is the RCMP’s job,” he said.
However, Windels said they will be able to house individuals who are intoxicated but aren’t causing any trouble, some of whom will be brought to them by the RCMP.
“They would normally be taken to the drunk tank “because they don’t have anywhere else to take them,” he said.
This news was especially exciting for Roberta Swindler, an addictions services worker with Battle River Treaty 6 Health Centre. Swindler had emphasized the community’s need for a stabilization/detox centre at a recent round table discussion hosted by MP Wayne Easter, Liberal critic for public safety and emergency preparedness.
“Wow! I’m so excited,” she said at Friday’s announcement.
She told Windels, “We transport clients needing to go to detox or treatment, but we can’t transport them when intoxicated for our transporterss safety reasons.”
The Lighthouse’s stabilization unit would be a good place for those clients to come for eight hours before they are transported, she said.
Along with about 36 beds, there will be a washroom area and a laundry area. The stabilization unit for intoxicated people will be near to the washroom.
The main floor is about 6,000 square feet, said Windels, and there is a further 6,000 square feet in the basement that won’t at first be used, although areas that aren’t fire rated will be included in the renovation. It could be used to provide programming at a later date.
A mobile unit like the one in Saskatoon may also be a future project.
Windels said the Lighthouse has work to do to connect with all the relevant services in community.
“For us, it’s going to be a huge education, but the receptivity has been so awesome.”
During the announcement held outside under a bright sky, but with a chill wind blowing, Windels said, “A lot of us really can’t imagine what it’s like. We’re outside and it’s a beautiful day, but can you imagine if you had nowhere to go? That’s what motivates us, that’s what keeps us going.”