Wetaskiwin city council has approved $65,000 in funding to open an emergency shelter this winter.
At a council meeting last Tuesday, administration was directed by council to open an emergency shelter at the civic building in the city south of Edmonton.
A financial commitment of up to $65,000 was approved to cover the shelter’s operational costs until March 31, 2020.
“While setting up an emergency shelter again for our vulnerable population is a great first step, it remains just that — a first step,” Mayor Tyler Gandam said in a media release.
Hope Mission and Lighthouse Church have both provided city council with quotes on the anticipated costs of running the shelter. With winter looming, the city said it will give preference to the organization that can get the shelter up and running in the shortest time frame.
“The city will continue to seek financial support from the provincial government, as well as from neighbouring communities,” Gandam said.
The city had a working emergency shelter for three months from February to May 2019. During that time, the city said it experienced a large decrease in the number of calls for service by the RCMP, as well as a drop in the number of hospital visits.
The city had previously set up livestock shelters in hopes of curbing the homeless problem. In September 2018, the city said the shelters were put up as a place for vulnerable people to get out of the elements.
While the city admitted it was not the final solution, it said homelessness has been a long-standing challenge in Wetaskiwin, with people camping out in bushes and parking lots.
The temporary shelters were met with mixed reviews by local residents. They were destroyed by fire in October 2018.
Following last week’s council meeting, the mayor said council recognizes the city faced challenges when the emergency shelter was open earlier this year, including increased loitering and public intoxication in the downtown core.
Gandam said the city is committed to keeping Wetaskiwin a safe community.
City administration has also been tasked with looking into long-term solutions to address homelessness, mental health and addictions in Wetaskiwin. A full report on the subject is due back to council by April 27.
Wetaskiwin is location about 60 kilometres south of Edmonton.