July 18th, 2018

Lack of places for homeless to go on frigid Christmas and Boxing Day will be investigated: Wanner

By Gillian Slade on January 3, 2018.

Frigid temperatures have made the festive season particularly challenging for those who are homeless. On Christmas Day and Boxing Day after the Champion Centre closed at 11 a.m. they had nowhere to go in order to keep warm. The homeless shelter closed at 7 a.m., the library was closed and so was Tim Hortons. --NEWS PHOTO GILLIAN SLADE}


That the homeless had no place to stay warm in frigid weather on Christmas Day and Boxing Day is a big concern and will be investigated, says Medicine Hat’s MLA.

“I don’t think anybody in this province should be in a situation that they are at risk of potentially losing their life on the street,” said Bob Wanner, NDP MLA for Medicine Hat.

Between 15 and 17 people who were in the homeless shelter on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day had to leave there by 7 a.m.

The Champion Centre on North Railway Street provided breakfast and warmth until 11 a.m. After that there was nothing. The Salvation Army’s Resource Centre in the basement of the United Church downtown was closed both days, as was the library and even Tim Hortons.

“There’s been a lot of discussion here that we in this municipality have ended homelessness. If that is not in fact correct we need to be as a community concerned, need to re-examine whether or not that objective is being met,” said Wanner.

The Salvation Army Centre of Hope shelter, which receives funding from the provincial government, used to allow people 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 in an interview last Friday.

As the temperature plummeted further over the weekend and on New Year’s day the Salvation Army’s Resource Centre downtown was open, Jaster said Tuesday.

The provincial government has provided funding for various projects related to those who are homeless. There is the Housing First program and the Outreach Support Initiative accounting for about $3.1 million in Medicine Hat alone, said Wanner. About $600,000 goes to fund the homeless shelter.

In September an investment of another $2.2 million was announced for another community housing initiative, said Wanner.

“As far as I’m concerned you worry about peoples’ housing 365 days out of the year,” said Wanner. “Housing is a pretty important component of the basic needs of Albertans.”

“Something in the order of $6 million was invested in this community to help in that regard in this last year. I think that’s an indication of the province’s commitment to helping the most vulnerable,” said Wanner.

According to a News report in January 2016 funding for the shelter used to be for 16 hours a day and was then reduced to 12 hours a day in 2012.

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 homeless people expressed at The Champion Centre last Friday. Every day of the week they must get out by 7 a.m. and then keep moving to find a place 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 part-time job that provides a net income of $600 a month.

To keep the shelter open one day a week would require four additional part-time staff. Provincial funding does not cover this, said Jaster. The province has not increased funding for the shelter in the last four years, said Jaster.

“They’re looking at trying to end homelessness,” said Jaster.

The News requested comment from the Medicine Hat Housing Society and two city councillors on Tuesday. There was no response by our deadline.

Note: This story has been updated to correct the street that The Champion Centre is on. The News apologizes for the error.

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