I had an email the other day from a gentleman concerned about the imminent closure of a couple of programs for the homeless here. I'm not sure if he was actually from Grande Prairie or not because, he just mentioned that he had read an article mentioning it on CBC.ca
He was asking how Council could be so heartless and close these shelters when there were people in need who would be out on the street.
Here's the thing... Council hadn't decided to close these shelters. Here's an abbreviated version of how I replied to him:
Thank you for your note. From the tone of your letter it appears that you think it is the city of Grande Prairie that is kicking these people out. If that is the case you need to understand the full facts...
The city of Grande Prairie (with help from the community) is the organization who made these shelters available in the first place. We gave space in our old fire hall and our old RCMP building to house single moms and families. A community church provided the space for the 'mat' program where those living on the streets can stay for the night.
The funding for all of these places is through a grant from another order of government. Each space needs funds to pay for supervision to ensure the security and safety of the people staying there as well as for the operational costs like heat and lights. The government has chosen a deadline of April 1st to end the program that was paying for this.
Many times both city staff and the elected people on council have talked (and begged) whoever would listen to extend the programs so that these people wouldn't have to leave. As far as I know they have not chosen to extend the programs.
I am sure that our staff are working on other solutions to make sure that these people do not go out in the cold and I am also sure that council will support them with any solutions that come forward.
The city of Grande Prairie is also working to build a 40 unit apartment complex to provide more affordable housing units in the community, we have also donated land to Habitat for Humanity for a number of that organization's projects and will will do the same in the future. We help pay for a van that travels the streets at night to provide blankets and other basic needs to those sleeping on the streets. We are keenly aware of the great need in our community and we are doing our best to address it with the resources we have available.
Thank you for our note, I would encourage you to send the same to the Premier of Alberta - the Honourable Ed Stelmach (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing - the Honourable Ray Danyluk (Minister.MAH@gov.ab.ca)
Bill Given, Alderman
City of Grande Prairie
So, today in the Daily Herald Tribune there is an article on the same issue that says the city has changed it's mind about keeping the shelters open.
Ummmmm... What actually happened is probably more like this:
There wasn't going to be any more money from other orders of government so staff found a way to do it. They probably did that by stretching little bits of money from other projects or service areas to make ends meet. Thank goodness they did. There was no mind changing - we always wanted them open.