As temperatures start to drop, the only homeless shelter in The Pas has shut its doors.
Oscar’s Place, the only emergency shelter in the community roughly 521 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, closed Sept. 1 as the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) takes over operations and gets to work on weeks’ worth of needed repairs to the building.
James Wigley, CEO of CMHA’s Swan Valley region, says the organization has partnered with other community groups to buy sleeping bags, tents, personal hygiene products and thermal blankets for those affected by the closure.
The work is expected to take six to eight weeks, meaning the town’s homeless population will be without a warm place to sleep until at least Nov. 1.
“We realize that’s more of a band-aid solution at this point,” Wigley says of the supplies being handed out to clients.
“We are working quite closely with Manitoba Housing during this process to ensure that the repairs and maintenance items are done.”
In June the provincial government announced $355,000 in annual funding for the CMHA to operate 26 overnight beds at Oscar’s Place.
Manitoba Housing had been running the centre after purchasing the facility and entering into a funding agreement with a community group in 2018.
The CMHA official took over the reins Sept. 7.
In a statement to Global News, the province said Manitoba Housing was first made aware of the issues facing the facility through a building inspection report in June 2019.
But the province says the issues weren’t properly repaired by the group running the shelter at the time and only got worse.
Manitoba Housing took over responsibility for the repairs last September but wasn’t able to secure a contractor, the province says.
The province now says a number of repairs are urgently needed, including new flooring, renovations to the showers and upgrades to security.
The CMHA says matters were made worse this summer when vandals broke in while the shelter was forced to close due to a lack of staff.
Wigley said the first priority will be to fix the facility’s flooring, especially in the kitchen and shower areas.
“There are unsafe spots, staff or our clientele walking around there certainly hit a soft spot and we don’t want anybody to be injured,” he said.
“There’s also some pieces of safety — the camera system has not been upgraded and is currently not working (and) there’s no security system in the building as well.
“When we have staff working overnight in potential risky situations there should be a second security system available for staff to utilize if they need to call quick to RCMP or others.”
Wigley said work patching holes in the building’s walls have been completed and the CMHA is actively recruiting staff so they can reopen as soon as possible when the work is done.
When it does reopen, the centre will run as an overnight shelter — from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. — but Wigley hopes to see the hours extended and further mental health and addiction supports added in the future.
“The community is looking for stability,” he said.
“My hope is that as we progress into the future we can build more community partnerships and that we can access additional funding from other resources and be able to offer more wraparound supports through the day times.”
–with files from Gabrielle Marchand