Two organizations set up to help the homeless population in Drayton Valley are sounding the alarm for the need to get a permanent shelter as the harsh winter elements start to set in.
With overnight lows flirting with -20 C this past week, there is a heightened concern about the homeless with nowhere to go after “Tent City” was torn down last month, leaving the those staying there scrambling for new places to keep warm.
The recent cold blast this week and the expectation of “dangerous” cold spells this winter according to AccuWeather has the President of Warming Hearts Soup Kitchen worried for the lives of those without a roof over their head as she has already seen a man come in with frost bitten fingers.
“The last week has been horrible. The guy with frozen fingers, he had been living in Tent City, and now doesn’t have a home. He was in pretty bad shape,” said Kelly Forster.
Forster and a vast amount of volunteers help provide warm meals to those in need at the kitchen, serving around 30 homeless individuals who are local residents of Drayton Valley. She says the demand for a shelter is needed now more than ever.
“They really need a place to go. We need a shelter, a funded by the province shelter with properly trained staff. People come in that have no place to shower or do their laundry, we need some outside help.”
One woman who called herself “Dee” visits the soup kitchen regularly. She recently lost her home, and simply wishes that the residents of Drayton Valley would just see that many of the homeless in town are not bad people, they are just trying to survive.
“We’re just trying to get by. People that go out binning, picking bottles out of garbage bins, we don’t want to be in there. But that’s the only thing left,” Dee said before her voice faltered and she began tearing up.
The only place the homeless can go to find warmth on a cold night is the Community Mat Program, which runs at a local church. The program is currently severely lacking volunteers and is only open a handful of nights.
“There is a huge fear of shuttering due to a lack of volunteers, we have 12 and we need 60. And I am very afraid that we are going to lose somebody to the elements,” said Heather Yakimchuk of the Homeless and Poverty Reduction Team.
Yakimchuk adds that with Drayton being a boom and bust cycle town, many people that used to volunteer moved away for jobs or got jobs that doesn’t allow them to volunteer overnight anymore.
Drayton Valley RCMP Sergeant Erin Matthews says they are working with the town to find a solution to assist the people by finding them places where they can be housed, fed and clothed. The last thing that they want with the temperatures getting colder out is to have people freezing.
“The cold weather is a huge concern. Tent City certainly wasn’t suitable and safe for anyone. We have heard reports of some people may be setting up in other areas, we have investigated those concerns and at this point they are unfounded,” said Matthews.
Mayor Michael Doerksen called the issue of homelessness in Drayton Valley a priority, adding that people living on the streets are never a great circumstance. He commended the poverty reduction team but admitted there are gaps in the community due to the lack of resources available in a rural setting compared to a large city like Edmonton.
“We need support from provincial and federal governments. We need a more permanent solution. These are people, they are residents of Drayton Valley and their lives matter just as much as any other.”
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