Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Homelessness in Fort McMurray

Image being addressed

Today staff
Friday August 03, 2007

The need for a homeless shelter for youth was broached at a homeless strategy session in Fort McMurray Thursday, but it wasn’t adopted as one of the areas identified as immediate priorities.
The Family and Community Support Services Department and the Homelessness Initiatives Steering Committee (HISC), an arm of the municipal government volunteer organization -- held two housing forums Thursday at the Seniors Activity Centre to look into homelessness in the region. The first included representatives from diverse local organizations, and the second brought together members of the community.
The forum will eventually lead to the 2007-09 Community Plan on Homelessness to follow up the plan drafted three years ago. Other workshops were held last fall in response to an emergency shortage of shelter space after 65-70 shelter places closed in Marshall House. It re-opened recently after closing through the spring
The homeless rate in the Fort McMurray is the worst in a province known for its homelessness problem: 6.8 people per thousand. The Fort McMurray Housing Needs Count 2006 found the number to be 441, and that figure has likely not gone down much.
“The stats don’t change much between seasons, though we don’t necessarily see the chronic population as much in the summertime.” said Cindy Nash of the Centre of Hope.

The forum was moderated by Integrated Environment, who will draft the plan and submit it for approval to HISC, where it will then move to regional council and on to provincial and federal proposals for funding.
But as much as finding solutions to homelessness the forum was a discussion of the causes of the problem and the struggles Fort McMurray faces as a whole.
Many issues that everyone knows about -- the lack of affordable housing, transient population -- and others not talked about so often, like income disparity being a barrier to taking service work and the outside perception of Fort McMurray with streets paved in gold were raised.
“What really comes out of these things is that they’re so multidimensional ... The boom relates to so many different things, and homelessness is just one,” said Sandy Grandison, of the HISC and a co-ordinator of the event.
“I think we have an image of what a homeless person is, and that just doesn’t fit Fort McMurray.”
In the end, the forums set out specific priorities that the municipality will be asked to push forward. One was an emergency shelter does not limit help to sober clients.
Another was a pre- and post-treatment addictions facility and program. The third is an “accurate public perception of the experience of relocating to Fort McMurray,” which is already in the works by the municipal community image committee, working with a private contractor hired by the municipality. It will find ways to correctly portray to the community to the world at large.
Some were concerned that the final priorities did not include an emergency homeless youth shelter, which was something commonly discussed over the past year as a necessity. Youth are not allowed into any of the existing homeless people shelters in town, and the population of young homeless is growing.
“I’m very surprised that need wouldn’t show up as a priority,” said Rod McDonald, executive director of the United Way and chairman of the HISC.

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