Red Deer’s homeless must keep on the move when winter arrives

You set up appointments. You go to meetings. You go to the soup kitchen. You visit the library. You do anything that will get you into a warm building during the day when there’s nowhere else to go.

Sabrina Lefebvre

Sabrina Lefebvre

You set up appointments. You go to meetings. You go to the soup kitchen. You visit the library. You do anything that will get you into a warm building during the day when there’s nowhere else to go.

Street people are tough by nature, but even the strongest have to find creative ways to stay warm in the daytime, when it’s -20 and the shelters and mat programs are all closed until night-time, says an advocate for the homeless.

Scott Hanson, a volunteer outreach worker with Barachah Place, sat for a chat on Thursday with three of his friends from the street, 44-year-old Cathy, 17-year-old Michelle Sanford and Jay “Black Panther” Braden.

They were among a group of about 135 people who had come in for The Winter Tuneup at Barachah Place and The Central Alberta Aids Network Society offices, both located in Turning Points. The event included hot lunch, live entertainment, hair cuts, clothing, a vaccine clinic and myriad other services, patterned after similar programs in Edmonton and Calgary.

Seated in a storefront office, the group took some time to compare notes on winter survival. As of Thursday, Sanford was the only one who hadn’t found a place to stay at night.

She had been bedding down at the Youth Winter Inn, operated by the Youth and Volunteer Centre.

After years on the street, Cathy had just been offered a suite at People’s Place.

Braden, acknowledged by the group as one of the “go-to” people in Red Deer’s homeless community, was evicted earlier this year from the Valley Hotel so its owners could start renovation.

He now has a room on the second floor of Turning Points.

Hanson estimated that there are now between 250 and 350 people living on the streets in Red Deer. There’s a place for almost everyone at night, but they’re on their own during the day and there are still some gaps in the programs.

The biggest is the lack of facilities for women who want to steer clear of drunks and addicts, said Cathy, who has been clean for 31 days.

Red Deer offers lots of room for people who need a place to spend the night, but the mat programs are showing a preference for helping men who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, she said.

Spending the night with crackheads and drunks makes it that much harder for her to stay clean.

“You need to eat, you need to stay warm, so you end up hanging out with addicts,” said Cathy.

“It makes it so much harder. That’s why there’s such a vicious cycle in this town. They need a dry centre for daytime.”

People’s Place provides housing, but requires an application and approval process so does not function as a place for people to crash at night, she said.

Sanford, who prefers the streets in Red Deer to living with her family in Didsbury, said she has been kicked off a mat because she was sober and the person who needed it was drunk.

She’s been fighting to stay sober herself. Like Cathy, she finds it difficult when booze and drugs are all around her.

The Central Alberta Women’s Outreach is currently working on a facility focused on providing housing for abused women.

Hanson said he is trying to find backers to open a dry shelter for people who want to get away from users and alcoholics.

“We do not have a safe drug-and-alcohol free environment. We do need a dry centre.”

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com

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