Winter catches homeless cold

The early arrival of cold weather has some Red Deer homeless people anxiously awaiting the Nov. 1 opening of the overnight shelter Winter Inn program.

A woman was discovered dead at the scene of this campsite located in a small forest between the north and southbound lanes of the Hwy 2 south of the city.

The early arrival of cold weather has some Red Deer homeless people anxiously awaiting the Nov. 1 opening of the overnight shelter Winter Inn program.

A man sitting down for a free, hot lunch at Shining Mountains Living Community Services this week said more shelter space for adults is needed now.

“On Thanksgiving weekend, it was 20 below out there, in the snow,” said the man, who has been living outdoors. He didn’t want his name used.

He said he can’t rely on existing programs for help, like the mat program, which was set up for people who are high or intoxicated.

“They will take you if you’re not intoxicated but if someone comes in that’s intoxicated, they wake you up and kick you out, so what’s the point of even going there?

“There is nothing here for people like myself. I’m a recovering addict. I’m not perfect, but I’ve sure come a long way from where I was.”

The Winter Inn is open to everyone — sober or not.

The man said the death of a homeless woman last week in a wooded area near Gasoline Alley is proof that more year-round shelter space should be a priority.

The 41-year-old woman who had been camping in the area was found dead about 10 days ago. She was the second person found deceased outdoors in or around the city this month.

Central Alberta Safe Harbour Society for Health and Housing runs the mat program out of its detox building, offering 20 overnight spaces for people. It also operates People’s Place, a homeless shelter with 23 beds.

Safe Harbour also staffs Winter Inn, which runs out of downtown churches, giving 25 people a place to stay overnight until the end of April.

“Right now we are doing the best we can. We’re trying to get a huge spectrum of service so people are supported and don’t have to camp outside of town,” said Kath Hoffman, executive director of Safe Harbour.

“Are we serving them well? I think we’re serving the best way we can right now with the resources we have and the support we have from all levels of government.

“Do we need to do more? Always.”

Earlier this month, city council approved EveryOne’s Home — a Five Year Community Plan Towards Ending Homelessness. The $93.3-million plan looks to add 500 affordable housing units by 2015.

Raye St. Denys, executive director at Shining Mountains Living Community Services, agreed the homeless who drop by her office for lunch need more choice.

“They need a wide range of options just like the rest of us when we’re looking at how we want to live our lives and what we believe will work for us. There’s no one size fits all,” St. Denys said.

In the meantime, those who feel they have no alternative but to camp outdoors still have their pride and deserve respect, she said.

“Many of them feel if they’re out of sight and if something bad happens to them, then nobody really minds — out of sight, out of mind.

“The fact that they live a different way of life is not something they should be punished for. I think you need a huge amount of strength and courage to live the way they do. It would be beyond me.”

The public is encouraged to drop off supplies for Winter Inn — like boots, mitts, socks, scarves and tuques — at Safe Harbour at 5246 53rd Ave.

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