A soft bed with clean covers. A lock on the door, a fridge, a TV, a microwave and a tight network of friends: It’s all so much different than hiding in the bush or curling behind a dumpster, says Tracy Chalifoux.
Tears flow as Chalifoux, a certified school teacher, talks about the years she spent living on the streets, fighting addictions and mental health issues.
Born on the Swan River First Nation by Slave Lake, Chalifoux, 39, said there was no help there for the troubles she had been having. She ended up in Red Deer, temporarily housed at the women’s shelter.
Four years ago, Chalifoux got a room in what was then the Buffalo Hotel, which celebrated its grand opening on Friday.
The old hotel has been converted to an affordable living option for people who would otherwise be homeless.
With its renovation, the former hotel’s 40 residents each have a small suite to call their own along with laundry services, clean showers and full-time staff to able to give them whatever help they need.
Among the greatest benefits are the friendships that have developed among the residents, who now share a special bond, said Chalifoux.
“We are from the streets, and we’ve lived out there and we’ve roughed it and toughed it, especially in Rotary Park. I’ve been in the bush and eating out of dumpsters. We check on each other, we worry about each other, and we especially love each other,” she said.
“We all have pains. We all have hurts. We have a lot of frustration sometimes, because we were out there and we went through the hardest times.”
Buffalo Hotel staff have played a huge role in helping her efforts to rebuild the self esteem she lost so many years ago, said Chalifoux.
“They never shoot us down, call us down, mess us around. It’s all good.”
While it’s still called the Buffalo Hotel, its former tavern has become a place of worship while the Buffalo Hotel Café still serves fresh coffee and hot meals.
The Buffalo Hotel’s conversion is the result of a joint effort between a number of groups and flows nicely with the city’s commitment to end homelessness, said Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling, emcee for the event.
It grew from an idea generated by Stan Schalk and Peter Leyen, partners in Potter’s Hands Developments Ltd., in concert with Patricia Turnbull, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association in Red Deer.
The concept behind the project is called housing first. That concept says people need a safe, warm roof over their heads, before they can begin to work on their problems.
With support from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Association, Potter’s Hands and the CMHA cut a deal to buy the building and create a more permanent, comfortable home for its long-term residents as well as other people living on the streets.