ATHABASCA – The very first steps toward seeing a homeless shelter opened in Athabasca have been taken, but it’s going to be a long road ahead.
Athabasca Cares – The Shelter Project started as a Facebook group last fall, and now with 40 members, an organizational meeting has been called for March 3 to establish an official charitable organization to end homelessness, address its causes and advocate for shelter for everyone in Athabasca.
It’s not the first time someone has endeavoured to tackle the issue. The key, say organizers, is going to be bringing all those affected parties together to dialogue and bring forward meaningful and plausible solutions.
“The thing is that this is only going to work if we have buy-in from the community. This is a community effort, this isn't three or four people getting together and somehow magically getting funding in place for a homeless shelter,” said co-organizer Krystal Zahara, who along with Lisa Allen and Heather Stocking formed the group and have been working behind the scenes to bring together stakeholders.
The stakeholders in this instance are everyone in the community — because homelessness impacts more than just those who are unhoused, it affects everyone in the community.
“It's beneficial for every person in the community,” said Zahara. “That's the thing, a homeless shelter or temporary housing is beneficial for the businesses, it's beneficial for the people, it's beneficial for the community members, there's so many benefits.”
Zahara praised the Athabasca Native Friendship Centre for its work to open a temporary mat program this year. Local businesses, RCMP and residents are already noticing a difference. Unfortunately, the program is temporary and will likely close at the end of March, with the hope more funding can be secured to open again next fall.
“These are people, these are our neighbours in our community. These are our community members, and they wake up every morning and I can guarantee you that they don't say, ‘I'm excited to be homeless today.’ They want to make these changes, but the resources aren't there for them,” she said.
Not only that, but homelessness is a complex issue that can involve many other complex issues — mental illness and addictions, poverty, domestic violence, disability and systemic racism, for instance.
“This is such a huge compounding issue that it's not just a simple matter of putting temporary housing in place and everything is fixed,” said Zahara.
The group is inviting everyone to take part and contribute — health officials, law enforcement, municipal and other government representatives, band leaders, small business owners and large companies, and any other regular citizen that sees a need to find a solution.
“The thing is that everyone has different views on homelessness. We have different views on how we deal with it as a society, but what we can all agree on here is that we don't want people dying on the streets of Athabasca,” said Zahara.
You can find the Athabasca Cares – The Shelter Project group on Facebook and all are welcome to join the organizational meeting coming up March 3 from 1-2 p.m. at a location to be determined. Depending on COVID-19 restrictions, it will likely be held online.
If you would like to be a board member, volunteer, advisor, or if you’re just interested and want to know how you can help, send an RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org and attend the upcoming meeting.