Losing sleep over this winter’s three freezing deaths in Prince Alert, Coun. Rick Orr wants something done to prevent such tragedies in the future.
Prince Albert residents Doris Ahanakew and John Dorion were found frozen to death in February, while James Benjamin Roberts was found frozen in December.
“One of the things that I’ve been asked by a number of people is, have we done everything that is possible?” Orr told council during Monday’s meeting.
“I think one of the things that we can do is ask our board of police commissioners to have our experts in the police department see if there are any remedies that they can think of.”
One remedy that Orr has come across, which he admits might not be the most popular of options, is a wet house -- a safe environment where people with habitual addictions can take their substances.
“I think it’s going to open debate that probably isn’t going to be popular with everyone,” he noted.
“I know I’ve lost sleepless nights thinking about things that we can do for our situation our desperate and fragile people get into.”
In all three of this winter’s freezing death cases, a safety net was in place, with beds available at the YWCA, or alternatively at the city’s brief detox centre or jail cells.
“Inevitably, how do you deal with people who assume a certain risk to themselves, and how do you control that?” Coun. Lee Atkinson asked.
Orr’s initial motion to have the city’s board of police commissioners investigate the issue was met with some resistance from some members of council, who suggested that Community Mobilization Prince Albert might be a better place to consider such things.
One of the things that I’ve been asked by a number of people is, have we done everything that is possible? - Coun. Rick Orr
The organization’s Centre of Responsibility investigates underlying community issues such as homelessness, with representatives from various agencies seconded on a full-time basis to improve the community as a whole.
“I’m certainly in favour of doing what we can as a community,” Coun. Ted Zurakowski said. “I think that was a failure on our part, as a whole, and we need to do better.”
It’s not just the community that has failed but the federal and provincial governments as well, which have both failed to fund men’s shelters, he added.
“The social agencies that we have do the best with what they have,” Zurakowski said.
This sentiment was echoed by Mayor Greg Dionne, who said that he was surprised by the number of calls that came in with people asking why police hadn’t arrested Ahanakew, Dorion and Roberts before they froze to death.
“We do our best, as you can see by the counts that come out of the police report on how many intoxicated people we pick up,” Dionne said, noting that the three victims were later found in secluded areas where it was unlikely police were able to find them before it was too late.
With Orr changing his motion to include Community Mobilization Prince Albert’s investigation alongside the board of police commissioners, it passed.
The motion includes the investigation of the city’s homeless situation alongside possible remedies and proactive shelter alternatives. The study is set to conclude by September, in time to potentially mitigate more deaths next winter.