Serge Desbiens

Warming centre vital for dozens of people

Miles Kern’s wife kicked him out. Serge Desbiens had a job working at the carnival but it didn’t work out. Low on money and nowhere to go, the two men from different walks of life now had something in common – they are homeless. At the Safe Harbour’s temporary warming shelter, the two men bump into each other.

Miles Kern’s wife kicked him out.

Serge Desbiens had a job working at the carnival but it didn’t work out.

Low on money and nowhere to go, the two men from different walks of life now had something in common – they are homeless.

At the Safe Harbour’s temporary warming shelter, the two men bump into each other.

But they likely have crossed paths at People’s Place, where they both regularly claim a spot for the night.

Kern, 36, said it was a “bad situation” that lead him to the streets. Obviously, Kern says, he does not want to be in this situation. He is currently trying to find a place to live. While Kern has been homeless in the past for a few months, it has never been in the winter.

“I can get out of it,” said Kern, who has been homeless for about four months. “I was out of it for two years. I don’t keep coming back to it. The situation just (forced) me. As soon as I find a place, I should be good.”

Desbiens, 23, said he was working for a carnival company when he lost his job in July and had no place to go. He is from Surrey, B.C. where he was also homeless but the carnival job was helping turn his life around.

One day, he hopes to get a place and save up enough money so he can visit his sister and nephew in Thunder Bay, Ont.

“I am trying to but it’s hard because I have a disability, ” said Desbiens. “I am trying to get paperwork done for all that so I can get housing and I can get more income.”

The temporary warming shelter opened on Nov.6 on the Safe Harbour site on 53rd Street.

Stacey Carmichael, Safe Harbour’s director of programs, said between 50 and 80 people pass through the doors between the opening hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. every single day.

The mornings are particularly busy with the men and women arriving after spending the night in the shelters.

Carmichael said the sheer volume is not surprising and expects the number to increase as the temperatures drop. They had similar numbers last year at the warming site in the Seventh Day Adventist Church in downtown Red Deer.

“I have no doubt, if it hasn’t already, it will prevent someone from freezing to death,” said Carmichael. “We are grateful for that. At Safe Harbour we are always looking to get more permanent solutions and appropriate services year around and adequate housing to provide housing to all these guys.”

Sunday marked National Housing Day, a day to raise awareness about housing-related issues and homelessness in Canada.

Carmichael said this homeless population (mostly individuals) need a variety of housing options such as stock housing owned by a non-profit; access to private rental stock and housing subsidies.

“Those things help enhance the housing options,” said Carmichael. “Off the top of my head, there is a need for a couple hundred suites or (other) options.”

She said there are various challenges from the low economy to inadequate capital support from governments.

But Carmichael is hopeful one day there will be more government investments in affordable housing for this population.

Carmichael said these people like anybody simply need an affordable and safe place to live.

“They can be great tenants as we have demonstrated through the previous people we housed,” she said.

“Just getting that home can be life changing. For a lot of these guys, we have the ability to provide case management and rent subsidies. Those things help these people to be successful. So when we have the ability to house people 75 to 80 per cent it shows it is working. We know that it is working so we just need more people to trust that it is a good thing.”

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com

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