By Mo Cranker on December 30, 2017.
For the homeless it has been a challenge to stay warm in frigid conditions.
“Got to keep moving,” said one man at the Champion Centre on Friday morning, who did not want his name used, describing Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
After spending the night in the Salvation Army shelter on Christmas Eve, everyone had to leave by 7 a.m. on Christmas morning.
“They kick you out — they don’t care,” he added.
He made his way to the Champion Centre, which opened at 7:30 a.m.
“It was the only place in the whole city open on Christmas Day,” another person said.
The Salvation Army’s Resource Centre in the basement of the United Church downtown was closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day, as was the library.
The Champion Centre closed at 11 a.m.
A hot Christmas meal was served at the Stampede grounds but it took an hour to walk there. The temperature was colder than -20 C.
He had to stop at a Shell gas station along the way and they allowed him to wait inside until he’d warmed up a bit.
The Salvation Army used to allow people who had spent the night in the Centre of Hope shelter to stay during the day when temperatures were really cold.
“We stopped that when the Champion Centre started their winter warming (program),” said Maj. Murray Jaster of the Salvation Army.
The Resource Centre is usually available when the Champion Centre closes but that was not an option over Christmas.
“I think that is something we should have been looking at a little closer. Those people might fall through the crack for those two days,” said Jaster.
The number of people at the shelter each night runs around 15 to 17, with a couple being women, said Jaster.
The number of people at the Champion Centre varies each day but many days this month there have been 50 and 60, said assistant manager Barbra Sullivan.
“They know they’re welcome, on neutral ground and safe,” said Sullivan. “They feel wanted and treated equally.”
Mention Medicine Hat ending homelessness and there is an outcry.
“Full of s___,” said one person at the Champion Centre. “We’ll never end homelessness.”
Not all those at the Champion Centre are unemployed. One man attends college and has a part-time job at night but that brings in $600 a month. It is hard to find accommodation he can afford.
The physical and mental toll of being homeless, of never having a day when you can “stay at home” (at the shelter) and just relax, is a real issue, several said. Day after day, 24/7, they must get out by 7 a.m. and then keep moving to find one place after another to stay warm.
“The day’s are long and the nights short,” said one who only gets to the shelter in the early hours of the morning after his job.
To keep the shelter open one day a week would require four additional part-time staff. Provincial funding does not cover this, said Jaster.
“There’s been no increase in four years,” said Jaster. “They’re looking at trying to end homelessness.”
Jaster is open to exploring the options and looking at the possibilities.
“If there’s a need we are willing to try to help,” said Jaster.
What the homeless would also like is to have a locker with a padlock where they could keep their personal belongings rather than carrying them around.
Carrying a backpack immediately identifies you as homeless along with the accompanying stigma, one man explained.
The News was not able to connect with Medicine Hat Housing Society for comment on Friday.
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