WESTLOCK — Local groups and agencies have joined forces to tackle the issue of homelessness in the Westlock area and are working towards an action plan.
The Westlock and District Homelessness Coalition will work with other community groups to assess the housing needs of Westlock and area citizens and will work toward a community action plan to address housing insecurities.
The coalition came together earlier this year, after members with the Westlock Inter-Agency Committee discussed the need for them and other groups to come together (outside the committee) to create a plan to address homelessness and housing insecurities in the region.
“Because homelessness is a huge umbrella … homelessness doesn’t just mean living on the streets,” said FCSS executive director, Tracy Proulx, noting that homelessness could involve a variety of situations including living in unsafe housing, being at risk of eviction, couch surfing or having too many people living in one house.
The 17-member coalition, which began meeting in the spring, is made up of reps from Westlock & District FCSS, RCMP, Victim Services, Hope Resource Centre, Healthy Families Healthy Futures, Youth Unlimited, Alberta Addictions & Mental Health, clergy, community corrections, Alberta Supports, Westlock Municipal Library, food bank, town, county and village councils, Homeland Housing and the Aspen Primary Care Network.
“We’re bringing together community agencies that are already working with or seeing people who are experiencing housing insecurities,” said Proulx. “We know there are housing insecurities in our rural communities as well — out in the country we know there’s people sleeping in tents, we know that there’s people living in situations they shouldn’t be in some of our smaller communities (like) Clyde, Busby, Pickardville, Vimy and all of those rural communities, and because we are Westlock and District Homeless Coalition, we are addressing all of those issues.”
Proulx noted the coalition has applied for a grant through the Rural Development Network (RDN) and hopes the funds will help with a community housing and service needs estimation, which includes a survey. Once that survey is complete, they will have the numbers needed to continue the process. In addition to the number of people experiencing housing insecurity, those numbers will also detail housing needs and highlight areas that are lacking.
“From that they (RDN) will help us develop a community housing response plan, which is part of our action plan,” she said. “We will have community agencies working with people and helping us do the survey. Once we have those survey results then we will work on our community action plan to address housing insecurities,” explained Proulx. “It’s going to be a process — we do want to look at potentially having some sort of temporary plan with winter coming.”
Although there are some agencies in the region that help with homelessness, it’s not within their mandate, noted Proulx, pointing out another big factor in forming the coalition was the fact that there is not a designated agency that supports people with housing insecurities.
“We’re hoping that this coalition will help address that,” she said, noting that the survey is expected to be ready for distribution by early September but is dependent on the grant from RDN. The survey will be distributed to clients by agency workers in the social services field.
The Westlock and District Homelessness Coalition will continue to meet monthly until an action plan is in place, said Proulx, noting the pandemic’s impact on homelessness in the region.
“COVID has created more and more housing insecurities and with all of that comes mental health issues, addiction issues, all of those things,” said Proulx “We have seen everything ramped up and more people than we’ve ever seen in this community are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurities. The most we’ve ever seen for sure.”